- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) - In a visit coordinated through the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center, representatives from the Kentucky Blues Society taught fifth-graders at McNeill Elementary School about the blues.

The ensemble was composed of keyboard player Kenny Lee, who serves as director of the society’s educational efforts, harmonica player Lee Hammer and on guitar, Jim Morris, best known as former professional wrestler Hillbilly Jim.

Since 2005, the society has had a Blues in Schools program.

“We try to be a good resource for educational information for the role of the state of Kentucky in blues music,” Lee said.

“SKyPAC is bringing arts education to area schools and so we’re working in partnership with (SKyPAC CEO) Jan Zarr and SKyPAC, and we’re real excited about that,” he said. Lee hopes trips to schools will become more regular with SKyPAC coordinating the efforts, he said.

With their equipment set up in the school library, the bluesmen started the workshop with a performance of “Let the Good Times Roll,” during which Lee invited the children to sing the chorus with them.

“That is uptempo blues,” Lee said after the song. “It’s about having a good time, but the blues is also about when you’re not feeling good.”

After this explanation, the band demonstrated the more melancholic “Stormy Monday Blues” and the famous country blues number “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Between songs, Lee spoke about Kentucky’s role in shaping the blues. Lee told the fifth-graders about Louisvillian Sylvester Weaver, who played the first recorded blues guitar and Ernest Hogan, a native of Bowling Green’s Shake Rag district, an early ragtime pioneer.

Lee also stressed the importance of music as a means of strengthening the brain.

“Music is the only activity that connects all parts of the brain,” he said.

In the middle of the workshop, the performers gave each student a harmonica, which SKyPAC provided. After a brief explanation from Lee Hammer, Kenny Lee invited the students to play along with the next song.

Giving out harmonicas helps foster an interest in music among the children, Lee said.

“The harmonica is not only a vital and central element of blues music, it’s also a great entry instrument for people to get used to playing music,” he said.

After the three workshops, in which all the school’s fifth-graders were taught the same things and given harmonicas, the group performed the same songs at a concert in the gym for the entire student body. Halfway through this show, Lee invited the fifth-graders to play with them.

Grabbing their new harmonicas, the children formed a wall in front of the performers. The adults couldn’t be seen behind them and could barely be heard over their harmonicas.

Ka’Ryn Carothers, a fifth-grader, said the workshop and the performance were both fun.

“I’ve never played an instrument and this is my first time and I didn’t think it would be this much fun,” he said. He will continue to play his harmonica but isn’t interested in playing other instruments, he said.

The Blues in Schools program is a good chance to give students a broader range of experience, fifth-grade teacher Sarah Wilder said.

“They were very excited to have their own little musical instrument,” she said, adding that many of her students already play string instruments and were able to figure out how a harmonica works.

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Information from: Daily News, http://www.bgdailynews.com

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