Artist In Residence

 

Schoolin' In The Blues

By KAREN MAHONEY
Kenosha News, Kenosha, WI.


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 of musicians.
   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," she said. "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 program. "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!"

 

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