The Rapidian

Local blues musicians share love of music with area schoolchildren

The West Michigan Blues Society program Blues in the Schools is introducing children to the history of music through an interactive program provided free of charge to local schools.
Jimmie Stagger and David "Dr. Hamfat" Marin performing live blues for students

Jimmie Stagger and David "Dr. Hamfat" Marin performing live blues for students /Tim Richards

Underwriting support from:
David Marin explains the washboard

David Marin explains the washboard /Tim Richards

Student's reaction to Jimmie Stagger's diddley bow

Student's reaction to Jimmie Stagger's diddley bow /Tim Richards

At a time when music education is a controversial topic in Grand Rapids, West Michigan Blues Society (WMBS) continues to provide an interesting music program called Blues in the Schools (BITS).

What is WMBS BITS?

Led by the veteran local blues artist Jimmie Stagger and retired educator and musician David "Dr. Hamfat" Marin, WMBS BITS is a live musical performance that educates students about the blues genre, as well as the cultural and historical context surrounding the blues. Thanks to underwritings from WMBS and Old Orchard Brands, BITS is free of cost for participating schools.

"The whole point is to educate kids [about] the origins of the blues, and to try to relate it to kids in a personal way because blues music is about life experience,"says Stagger. "It's free of charge to the schools. All we want is the time."

Since its conception in 2000, WMBS BITS has made appearances in over 50 schools in the greater Grand Rapids area.

What is the program like?

The program runs about one hour in length, and follows a historical timeline of the blues genre. It ranges from traditional field hollers to contemporary rock-style blues. Marin explains, "the teachers get information ahead of time with lesson plans, and connective thematic things that they can do in art, creative writing and history. I look at it as a lesson that should be fun."

Marin continues, "schools can expect to have an interactive, entertaining, and educational experience. Plus they get to hear some good music. Jimmie plays a wonderful guitar."

The duo also performs in the musical style of the period as well as in the style of the presented artist. They impress both students and teachers by using homemade instruments such as a Cigar Box Guitar and a Diddley Bow made from a piece of barn wood salvaged from 1910.

Students do more than simply sit and listen. The duo also encourages students to participate by singing, clapping, and tapping along to the many classic blues artists ranging from Lead Belly to B.B. King. A slideshow also runs in the background showing historical photographs from the time period.

Stagger says, "there’s always a handful of kids that you can see you lit a spark in them." When asked about the student's reactions, he continues, "If kids can come away seeing how blues is a part of music, then we’ve come closer to doing what the whole objective is—to educate kids about music."

One year Stagger and Marin asked a few students to write their own blues lyrics. The duo then created a song with the student's lyrics and returned to play the song at the BITS performance the following year.

What do schools say about WMBS BITS?

Director of student services at Creative Technologies Academy in Cedar Springs Kyle Bohl says, "our school loves having Blues in Schools come to do presentations at CTA. Our students get a fresh look at some cultural history that allows them to see just where music has come from and how it influences their music choices today."

Fifth grade teacher of Townline Elementary School Alison VanDyke says, "the children enjoy this presentation very much. They get to ask questions along the way and the presenters gain their attention very quickly. The children leave this presentation with a better understanding of the history of blues music."

Interested educators and parents can find more information on the West Michigan Blues Society's website or by contacting Tim Richards at:

WMBS Blues in the Schools

P.O. Box 6985

Grand Rapids, Mi. 49516-6985






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