Artist In Residence
LAKE GENEVA — "Got
to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues..." or so the song goes.
Although not yet
old enough to have paid substantial dues, fifth graders within the walls of
Central-Denison Elementary School still try to get in the mood. They
tap their feet, and sway to the shuffling beat of Jackie "5&Dime" Wolworth's
drum set. With harmonicas and energetic voices, they feel their way through
the tune. "You have to testify-
you know what testifyin' is?" shouted their special instructor,
internationally acclaimed blues harmonica player/singer Geneva Red. "It
means you feel what you are singing and you're not afraid to shout it out!" She sings a melody
as students begin playing blues style on their "harps," which is blues slang
for harmonica, also called the "Mississippi saxophone."
Student Justine Heck
was swaying to the repetitive and resonant eternal engine of the blues,
almost as soothing as the distant chugging of a midnight train on a sizzling
summer night. "I'm feelin' it," she
laughed, as the group ran through a rendition of "Old Helena," and resumed
the rhythmic blowing and drawing technique on her harp.
Friend Madeline Rausch
is feeling it, too, and while she has two harmonicas at home, she's never
heard harp playing like this.
"I never practiced a
lot before--I didn't know about blues harmonica playing," she said. "This is
cool and Geneva Red is inspiring me to play more."
Swaying to the beat
was their teacher, Erik Johnson, who cranked out a few boogie-woogie bars
before his pipes gave out.
"I haven't done
organized singing since middle school," he said, voice cracking. "I may just
consider this for a second income."
Geneva Red, a seasoned
performer and a former actor, first felt the blues touch her soul at the
Chicago Blues Festival, leading to her career as a blues artist. Now,
through their Artist in Residence Series, she and guitarist/drummer Jackie 5
& Dime are trying to share the love of the blues with a whole new generation
In recognition of
Black History Month, local dentists Mark and Ryan Braden purchased Hohner
harmonicas for the students, and sponsored the duo for the weeklong workshop
and concert at Central-Denison.
"We are so excited to
have them here," said Samantha Polek, principal. "I couldn't believe it when
Dr. Braden called me and said they wanted to do this for us. They were just
so nice to offer."
In addition to daily
classes teaching basic blues techniques and harp playing, Geneva Red's goal
is to prepare the fifth-graders enough to perform in a final concert with
her band, The Original Delta Fireballs.
"I am really throwing
a lot at them right now, it's almost overwhelming," she said last Tuesday.
"But they will be ready--by Thursday they will be doin' it."
One of Geneva Red's
primary reasons for running workshops across the country is to bring an
awareness of the blues and its history to the younger generation. "Without
blues as a foundation, many of the current pop tunes wouldn't be the same,"
"I also feel the harmonica is cool, and I know once kids learn about the
instrument they will think it is cool, too," she said. "And it is a front
instrument just like the guitar."
After the workshop,
Geneva Red encouraged the students to think about a stage name for the
"Before there was
Snoop Dogg, there was Hound Dog Taylor, " she said. "And before there was 50
Cent, there was 5 & Dime. So I want you to think of a name for yourselves
because you are musicians."
"That's right," said 5
& Dime, ending with a wah-wah on the electric guitar, " 'cuz now
you're playin' the blues!"