Twenty-five hundred local students will be getting a treat next week as Blues Legend Fruteland Jackson, will make appearances here as a part of the “Blues in the Schools” program.
Jackson will bring his intimate knowledge of blues history, his guitar stylings and signature vocals to schools in the Baxter, Colfax-Mingo and Newton school districts. He also will appear at DMACC and do a show at the Newton Public Library.
Since his initial lecture in schools Jackson has educated more than million kids. Not bad for a guy who wanted nothing to do with teaching kids at first.
“Well in the first place it happened by accident,” Jackson said. “About nearly 20 years ago, I was in Charlestown S.C. playing at a festival and a lady asked me to talk to her classroom about the blues. I bristled at the notion and told her that, ’Little kids didn’t have the wherewithal to understand the blues.’”
“I basically told her that I sing whiskey drinking and cheating songs,” he said. “So she said all I had to really do was sing a couple of songs and sing just a little bit and that it paid $100 dollars an hour. All I heard was the $100.”
As tempting as that pay day was for Jackson, he still needed more input to take up the gig. So he called up his friend Robert Jones, who is a reverend in Detroit for some sage advice.
“He said, ‘Fruteland stick with Lead Belly (blues legend and you can’t go wrong. Don’t sing double entendre songs and don’t sing hoochie goochie man.’”
After doing that first classroom, Jackson did three more classrooms. He actually made more money from visiting the classes than he did from performing in that particular festival. And that initial teacher told someone else about and that person also told someone else. Eventually the word began to spread and it’s what kick started his involvement with Blues in the Schools which led to him winning the Keeping the Blues Alive Award in 1997 from the Blues Foundation.
“I started embracing the program,” Jackson said. “In 2010 I saw a million kids. I started putting together the program with the EQ standard, so that I could have an expectation for K through third and it wasn’t just entertainment. There was an educational component involved. So when they walked out of that room they weren’t just feeling good. They knew something about what the blues was, some of the important people who helped develop the music and how it is attached to what they were doing.”
Jackson said that middle school kids are his favorite groups of kids to work with but he loves the reactions of the K through third kids. He said that he can get them to relate to music because of the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, “Blue Box Blues” commercials and they get excited and jump around. He also doesn’t have an end date for him as an educator or as a performer.
“Musicians never retire, we just get to a point that we can’t play anymore,” he said. “I’ve see them wheeled up in a wheel chair with no legs but they can still play the keyboard. As long as I can perform I can still be out there. I’ll be doing this as long as they keep calling me.”
As a person who visits many schools, he is fully aware of the decrease in arts funding for schools and is not fond of it.
“I think the arts are important,” he said. “I think its music and arts that help you deal with algebra and the sciences. The arts massage the brain so that the heavier subjects can be accomplished. I have seen the impact that they have and I don’t think that there is enough. The first thing that goes out the window is arts. Just like at home as soon as the money get’s tight cable is the first thing to go.”
During his appearances Jackson also goes to a lot of rural schools and sees his visits and the blues as a way to educate and expose the kids to some diversity.
“It tears down walls,” he said. “It breaks down social barriers. It’s kind of hard to listen to someone’s music all the time and have certain feelings about me. It gives you a deeper understanding about the culture. The blues is all over the world. People like the blues everywhere. Blues music to me, is the recognition of a tragedy and an optimism to deal with it. Blues is considered the poor man’s psychologist. For some the blues can provide repose for the soul and serenity to a troubled mind.”
Jasper County students should be anxious to have such an enthusiastic teacher and performer coming to visit them. Jackson has a word of advice for the kids to prepare for his visit.
“Be eager, enthusiastic and ask questions,” said Jackson. “And I’ll take care of the rest.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at email@example.com.