Sonny Boy's "Kids of Tutwiler" Music Program
In my role as tour guide to blues harmonica history, I point out the nailed-down funeral parlor where Emmit Till was interred, the ruins of the train station where W.C. Handy first heard a slide guitar scratching the blues.
About a mile out of town, we come to the country cemetery with its raised graves and tilted headstones. This is where Sonny Boy is buried; in this wonderful field where the only sounds are the birds and the breeze.
It's always a little odd to lead ten to fifteen shiny cars through these haunted streets to get to Sonny Boy's grave site. I wanted to help out in some way. Through an article in the Los Angeles Times, I discovered the Tutwiler Medical Clinic and the Tutwiler Educational Center, two wonderful Catholic Church-affiliated facilities that provide medical care and educational opportunities for the locals.
Since I am a blues musician and into Sonny Boy, Sister Anne Brooks and Sister Maureen Delaney suggested I start a music program for the kids. With the help of Jam Camper, Ed Masterson, local musician-teachers were hired, money and instruments were donated, local kids recruited to learn music--and the program was under way.
We hired our teachers, Heather Crosse on bass, Lee Williams on drums, and David Dunavent who specializes in guitar at $30 an hour. They teach two classes a day, twice a week--one for the little kids and one for the teenagers-with a focus on bass, drums, guitar, vocals and creating bands.
The program started in 2010 and the kids are getting better and better. The bands have performed in venues around Mississippi -- notably the Thacker Mountain Radio Show.
Moreover many Jam Campers have made small, medium and sizable donations to the program.
It's all in honor of Sonny Boy, all in honor of the blues. Sonny Boy was an extraordinary artist and the people of Tutwiler are his people.
These kids may not make it to college but learning music, teamwork, discipline will build their brains, and make them smarter, help them feel pride. Plus making music is so much fun.
I wish I had had these classes when I was a kid.
The last thing I want to mention is the generosity of my fans and of Jam Campers.
This is what makes the program run. The picture here is over Jam Camper Steve "Tuna" Tornavich giving Sister Maureen a check for 2k that he raised at a blues benefit in Nantucket. He's not the only one.
The Tutwiler Educational Center accepts PayPal donations. It is all tax deductible.
If you'd like to help out, click above or below.