The Illinois Central Blues Club’s “Blues in the Schools” program evolved over the years thanks in large part to Steve Truesdale, past ICBC president, who took this cause to heart.Steve spent countless hours reaching out to the community, and to the youth of the community in particular.
Over the past few years, the club has donated hundreds of recordings and books to the local library, thereby making these resources available to teachers for inclusion in their lesson plans. The club sponsors free community concerts, typically twice a year, where young people can come and hear this great music, and learn about the historical significance of this art form. We sponsor open jams, where aspiring young musicians can play along with seasoned musicians.The club has been involved in community presentations, as well as conducting workshops in traditional classroom settings.
During the last several years, Steve was able to add a new element to this program. Thanks to dedicated members and sponsors Walt Foster and Cingular, and Bobby Shaw of Shaw Property Management, we have been able to put instruments in the hands of children. These generous people donated harmonicas to be given to students as part of a blues in the schools presentation.
At Springfield’s “First Night” free New Year’s Celebration in 2006, Mark “Rhode Island Kid” Russillo and the KMC Blues Band performed.They were sponsored by ICBC. Mark Russillo presented a harmonica lesson and harmonicas were handed out to the young people who attended.
The club also sponsored several other free performances of the KMC Blues Band’s during the year. These events included a performance at a local church, an appearance at the Enos Park Community Festival in July, and the “Take Back the Night” event at Ridgely School in August.
Washington Street Middle School was the setting of a free Blues in the Schools concert presented by Reggie Britton and Raoul of the Black Magic Johnson Band. Reggie set up rhythm sections and harmonica sections allowing the children to play along.
Asbury Church was the setting of another BITS program. Al McMellan, an ICBC member, is a member of that church and was instrumental in setting this up, as well as other events there in the past. Reggie Britton was the musician for this event.
BITS has presented programs for the Boys and Girls Club, setting up hand-on performances and workshops. Reggie Britton was again instrumental in developing workshops for these events.
Several other events that are held in family friendly environments have led to jam sessions that included local high school students. One such event was the ICBC 20th Birthday Party held in March of 2006. The afternoon entertainment was local musicians, including several different host bands. The bands invited musicians in the audience to join in, and several high school students accepted that challenge. The club encouraged these young musicians, and hosted them later at our “Sundays at Starship” venue. Participating in this event was a group of high school students from Chatham who formed a blues band called “The Blue Stone Band”. The members of the band were Nick Teeter, guitar and vocals, Jake Shane, guitar, Alan Fain, bass, and Chase Knauts on drums. These events led to the club selecting and sponsoring one of these young musicians, Jake Shane, for our “solo” slot at The International Blues Challenge in Memphis that was held in February of 2007.
The Blues in the Schools program continues to grow and reach out to the young people in our community, encouraging them to be a part of the music community as well as teaching them an appreciation of this wonderful art form called the Blues. It is our aim to teach not only an appreciation of the music, but also an appreciation of the history of this music and its significance and contribution to the American society throughout the ages.
Photos courtesy of Steve Truesdale