The Cincy Blues Society’s Blues in the Schools Program
The Cincy Blues Society created a "Blues in the Schools" program not long after the Society was founded in 1990, because members realized that keeping the Blues alive for another generation is an integral part of the group’s mission. The Society’s educational program, known as BITS, has two areas of focus: presentations by professional musicians and performances by young people who are learning to play the Blues.
Why We Do the BITS Presentations
The Blues are an American art form and an important part of our country’s heritage, born in the South during a time when people were not all treated as equals. The music reflects a dark time in our nation’s growth, yet it also shows the ability of the human spirit to find ways to overcome and express itself in a way that reveals a deeper truth. By teaching about the origins of the Blues and focusing on common ground we can find in the music, the BITS presentations offer a unique way to introduce the history woven into the music as well.
In-School Blues Presentations
This program brings accomplished area Blues musicians into local schools to educate students about the history and significance of Blues music. There is no charge to the schools, because BITS is funded by money raised at Cincy Blues Society events throughout the year, with some additional funding from grants and donations.
A BITS presentation lasts about an hour and can be performed in an auditorium, a classroom, or any space large enough to accommodate the audience and musician. The presentation usually starts with a song, but the musician will also talk about what makes the music—the chords and progressions of 12-bar Blues music—and the musicians who created the art form. There is usually also time allotted for questions from students. Because the BITS program is free for the school, we can take presentations to inner city charter schools, suburban private schools, rural public schools, orphanage schools, vocational institutions, or any other educational establishment that requests the program and reach a wide spectrum of students.
The BITS Band: Young People Playing the Blues
The BITS program now also includes education through performance by young musicians, and this part of the Blues in the Schools program has become an integral part of how the Society is working to keep the Blues alive. Students at BITS presentations in the schools began asking the musicians how they could learn to play that kind of music. That’s when one of the musicians, John Redell, began to organize a group of interested students into the BITS band. The first group of students performed as the opening act for the Cincy Blues Festival in 2000, and they have been performing as part of the Saturday afternoon lineup ever since. They are now regularly featured at the Winter Blues Fest, too.
Many musicians lend their talents to this effort and have helped students polish their skills playing many instruments, as well as honing the vocal talents of the lead singers and the backup chorus. The BITS band includes students from elementary through high school. "I count it an honor and a privilege to play even the smallest of parts in inspiring an interest in music on any level," says John Redell. "When I look back over the years and see how music has been such an important part of my life, the thought that just maybe some young person will want to learn to play an instrument of their choice because of one of these presentations is truly wonderful."
Some of the BITS kids have taken their music to the next level, playing out with others, and so the Under 21 Jam was born several years ago. They have played at several area restaurants, at special events, and at the Winter Blues Fest. The regulars at the jam are also very popular when they play between sets at the Cincy Blues Festival. Audience members there often tell us how wonderful it is to see talented young people performing—and so clearly enjoying playing—traditional Blues music.
Book a BITS Presentation or Find Out More About Us
The Cincy Blues Society’s BITS program has been bringing a little history, a little music, and a lot of inspiration to tristate students for almost twenty years, and we are proud to have established a program that keeps Blues musicians playing and another generation listening to, learning about, and performing this uniquely American music.
For more information about the Blues in the Schools band or the Under 21 Jam, please visit John Redell’s BITS page at John’s Web site.
To book a BITS presentation, to find out about joining the BITS band, or for any other BITS-related information, contact Chuck Brisbin at bits @ cincyblues.org.