WMU News

Blues extravaganza offers feast of free music, education

Feb. 9, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- Blues music past and present will be center stage during an upcoming mini-festival on the Western Michigan University campus.

"Blues to You," the Expo V minifest, will blend thought-provoking lectures with exciting live performances to both educate and entertain local audiences Friday and Saturday, Feb. 18-19, in Dalton Center Recital Hall. Events will run from 7 to 11:30 p.m. both days and they are free and open to the public.

Though it originated in the deep south in the early 20th century, blues music is a forefather of much of the music people listen to today, says Dr. Benjamin C. Wilson, professor of black Americana studies and coordinator of the annual festival. In fact, much of modern music is deeply rooted in blues.

"One reason I'm doing this is to teach younger people that there's nothing new under the sun," Wilson says. "I want to let them know that there would be no Tupac if there was no Sun Ra, no Dr. Dre without Huddie Ledbetter. All music today builds off of that--from Tupac to Bacharach."

Presented by WMU's Black Americana Studies Program, the festival will feature lectures and presentations by Dr. Gloria Gibson and Dr. Horace Boyer. Gibson, associate vice chancellor of multi-cultural affairs at the University of Indiana, will address "The Role of the Blues Woman during the Harlem Renaissance Era" on Saturday.

Boyer, retired professor in the Department of Music and Dance at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, will speak both Friday and Saturday while demonstrating on piano. His topic Friday is "The Importance of the Mother of Classical Blues (Ma Rainey) on Rock and Roll." On Saturday he will speak on "The Importance of Blues to All African-American Music."

Musical performers, meanwhile, will take listeners on a blues music journey from its raw, rural form to its more modern and sophisticated urban sounds. The Eddie Burns Blues Band, slated to perform Friday night, will give listeners a dose of more unpolished, country blues. On Saturday, Priscilla McClendon and the In the Pocket Band will represent blues music's slicker, more urbanized side in her second appearance at the festival. Also performing Saturday will be Tim Carter and his band, featuring WMU junior John White, who will bring blues music even more into modern times.

The festivities will run from about 7 to 11:30 p.m. both days.

This marks the popular festival's 12th year. Previous festivals have explored other African American musical forms from blues and jazz to traditional and contemporary gospel, reggae and funk.

"I've been using music as a bridge to bring people closer together," Wilson says. "Music is a universal language. And I also want to expose and educate the public to African American musical forms."

Over the years, word about the annual festival has spread far and wide, in part because of the caliber of artists performing in it and because it all is offered for free, Wilson says.

"People have heard about it all over the country, as far away as Greenville, Miss.," Wilson says. "For me, it gives me a chance to get together with old friends and expose people to all this wonderful talent. We've really had some heavy cats up here."

Wilson decided to revisit blues music in observance of the first minifestival in 1987, which delved into "down home" blues. There's something about the musical style that people can relate to, whether you're a young or old or live in a big city or small rural community.

"I'm into the lyrics," Wilson says. "It's a history lesson with musicians surrounding it."

Festival sponsors include the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation as well as WMU's Office of the President; the Division of Minority Affairs; the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs; the Colleges of Education and Arts and Sciences; the Departments of Communication, English and Sociology; Office of University Budgets; the Office of the Vice President for Business; the Office of Admissions and Orientation; the Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations; and the Black Americana Studies Program.

For more information, call the Black Americana Studies Program at (616) 387-2665.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
616 387-8400