Blues In The Schools - History
by Reg Wihak
The beginnings of the Saskatoon Blues Society took place at the Crawdaddy’s Restaurant in December 2000 with an extended table of men from diverse backgrounds, but with a common interest in creating a blues festival and society.
It was agreed from the earliest of meetings of the fledgling Saskatoon Blues Society in January of 2001, that the Society’s goals was to develop a Blues Society which would create, foster, promote a deeper appreciation, awareness, and understanding of Blues musical legacy and cultural significance to Western cultural musical heritage. One of mechanism of doing this would be by developing an educational outreach for Saskatoon and area. This was the genesis of our Blues in the School program.
The first time I remember ever coming across the concept of “Blues in the Schools” (BITS) was in an article written by Art Tipaldi, a blues writer for Blues Revue magazine [Issue #42 November 1998; pages 27-32]. His article gave an overview of the Blues in the Schools as a concept and listed performer/educators such as Billy Branch and the Sons of the Blues, David Chandler, Guy Davis, Rev. Charlie Edmonds, Hawkeye Herman, Fruteland Jackson, Kenneth Jackson, Robert Jones, Doug MacLeod, D.C. and Selby Minner, Art Tipaldi, T.J. Wheeler, and Lane Wilkins. The article also referenced the Blues Foundation in Memphis as providing some direction to its affiliated societies, and organizations like the House of Blues, the Seattle Music experience and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have designed curriculum units and lesson plans that can be plugged into any grade or discipline. Like the article stated…the most effective and ongoing BITS program occurs when a single dedicated teacher discovers the enormous benefits of such a curriculum and personally integrates the blues into the classroom.
It wasn’t long after this that the SBS directors started discussions about developing our own Blues in the School program. Being a teacher and blues enthusiast, I naturally had interest in pursuing this avenue. Along with others SBS directors, I looked at the successful programs in Ottawa and Toronto online. We soon determined that funding this project would take some time. We were not deterred. B.C. Read made himself available to school presentations at schools that I taught at and at the school his children went to.
At the February 26, 2002 Director’s Meeting in the upper level of the old Elephant & Castle Restaurant, B.C. Read reported a good website he had come across regarding Blues in the School. It was Fruteland Jackson’s website. That triggered my memory about the Art Tipaldi article I had read in Blues Revue. Eventually, B.C. Read got in touch with Fruteland Jackson and eventually I took on the job of communicating with Fruteland in order to come to Saskatoon.