Alabama Blues Project

Alabama / March 13, 2012 / by The Team

"When you feel like you have no way out of a situation that you are in, nine times out of ten, you've heard a blues song that gives you an answer to your situation and you can figure things out." Carroline Shines, singer/songwriter and supporter of the Alabama Blues Project.

Blues Musician Debbie Bond started the Alabama Blues Project in order to help preserve the strong tradition within the state. The Alabama Blues Project's focus is not only the celebration of blues heritage, but also educating a new generation about the style, showing the playing of the blues as an innovative approach to preserving the style.

"Unlike places like Mississippi," Debbie explains, "Alabama really hadn't realized what it had in its own backyard." Soon, the project grew from simply recognizing blues heritage to actively seeking out engagement with young people. "There's nothing like music to build self esteem."

With a group of dedicated volunteers, the project hosts after-school camps where children can learn an instrument from award-winning blues musicians from all across Alabama. Brad Guin is one such artist and remarks how unique and important the project is for the community.

"Teaching kids how to play blues and rhythm and blues - this is one of the only programs like this anywhere around."

Debbie stresses the importance of the program for children and young people from all backgrounds and personal stories. "We have become known as being very good with at risk children."

Each week, children of all ages arrive at the camp ready to pick up where they left off with their instrument. First, everyone gathers together to learn about some Blues history through song from the expert volunteers. They then make bee-lines for their respective classes - drums, guitar, harmonica, bass, vocals, horns. The music starts as fast as kids can take their seats.

The children involved in the camps are not solely taught by your usual music teachers, but by blues professionals. The Alabama Blues Project has participating blues artists that are award-winning and perform across the country. The teaching methods are not traditional either. Sticking to true blues fashion, all students are taught by ear rather than by reading notes.

The camps have been an overwhelming success. Jonathan Blakney, a former student who had never before played an instrument before coming to the camps, is now a harmonica teacher. He says that learning the instrument has allowed him more focus in his everyday life and that The Alabama Blues Project "gives kids who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to learn the opportunity to learn music."

Carroline Shines adds, "This is a positive thing, this is a drug free, educational program. This is what kids need to do. They need to learn." Bands have formed from within the camps and collaborations between teachers and students have evolved.

The Alabama Blues Project has been steadily building its focus and expanding its horizons. Through programs like the after-school camp, the project hopes to excite young people into the world of Blues and to breed the next generation of Alabama Blues musicians. They also hope to soon open an Alabama Blues Museum in the Tuscaloosa area.

"Blues is a dying art. And in order for us to keep it going we have to teach the young ones so they can go on and teach others." 

To find out more about the project and the after school camp, visit them online here.