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Mississippi Blues lesson plan

OVERVIEW

Congress declared 2003 the “Year of the Blues,” an event more than likely unknown to most Mississippians. Fortunately however, most of the state’s citizens are well aware of the blues as a significant musical form and most can name a blues artist. That this remarkable creative expression originated in the Delta region of Mississippi is a phenomenon that our students need to understand. It grew out of the mixing of two rich cultural heritages, a harsh economic reality which conspired to keep most in poverty, and a challenging physical environment. This lesson will assist students in grasping the reality that a totally new musical genre, which has had a worldwide impact on other musical forms and their artists, was born and developed not far from their front doors.

CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, 4, and 6.

TEACHING LEVELS

Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12.

MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT

Mississippi History Now article, "Mississippi Blues"

Butcher Paper/Construction Paper/Markers

County outline maps of Mississippi

Videos: “Good Mornin’ Blues,” “The Land Where the Blues Began,” “The Blues Live Here”

Recordings of blues music

“Blues” poems by Sterling Plumpp and Etheridge Knight

OBJECTIVES

Students will:

determine reasons why a study of blues music is important;

describe how and why the blues developed as a musical form;

enumerate unique musical elements that specifically identify the blues;

indicate the geographical location of the blues;

identify Mississippi blues artists

OPENING THE LESSON

Introduce the lesson topic by asking students the following question: What do the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton have in common? Record their responses on the board. If their connection to blues music is not mentioned, tell students that these musicians learned to sing and play by imitating blues music.

Alternate Introduction: Play Eric Clapton’s “Walkin’ Blues” from his Unplugged CD. Based on what they have heard, ask students to share their perceptions of “blues” music. Then ask if they would like to hear a version of the song written over 50 years earlier. If available, play “Walkin’ Blues” by Robert Johnson or “Country Blues” by Muddy Waters.

DEVELOPING THE LESSON

1.

Ask students if they realize the connection between Mississippi and the development of the blues. Tell them that this unique form of music was born in the state and that this lesson will help them understand why. Ask them, as the lesson continues, to determine additional reasons why they should learn about the blues.

2.

Ask students to read carefully the Mississippi History Now article on the blues in order to get information on the following topics: background of the blues; specific musical techniques and subjects that distinguish blues music; where the blues originated; and the identities of famous blues musicians. Have students listen carefully to the Muddy Waters recording within the article. Additional information can be obtained from videos entitled “Good Mornin’ Blues” or “The Land Where the Blues Began,” or “The Blues Live Here,” all available through the Mississippi History on Loan Program (information below).

3.

Have students do the following activities to determine the WHO (this group should divide with one section describing the lives of most blues musicians and another making a list of famous blues artists), WHAT, WHEN and WHERE of the blues.

A.

Divide the class into four (or five) groups and assign a “W” question to each group. Using the Mississippi History Now article, web sites (listed at end of lesson plan), newspaper articles, and videos, students will collect data on their assignment and will make a brief presentation to the class. Teacher may wish to prepare a rubric for each group.

B.

All students will use a Mississippi outline map to indicate the location of Mississippi’s blues artists. Ask students to identify any patterns that are observable and to consider their significance.

C.

Make available for the students copies of the following poems by Mississippi writers: Worst Than the Blues My Daddy Had by Sterling Plumpp and A Poem for Myself (or Blues for a Mississippi Black Boy) by Etheridge Knight. Have students listen to several blues songs. Either in small groups or individually, have students list all the distinguishing characteristics they can identify. The school’s music teacher could visit and help students understand how blues artists used the “blue note” and the bottleneck slide. Ask students to create a web showing the various musical elements that make blues music unique. It should be turned in for evaluation.

D.

In small groups, ask students to put together all their work on the “W” questions and speculate on the “HOW” and “WHY” of the blues. Teacher may wish to lead a large-group discussion, after which students will write a one-page essay explaining their understanding of how the blues came to be.

CLOSING THE LESSON

Have students design a record jacket to show what they have learned about the blues. In the liner notes, they should include reasons why a study of the blues is important.

ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING

1.

Group Participation/Presentation

2.

Map Completion

3.

Completion of Web

4.

Essay

5.

Record Jacket

EXTENDING THE LESSON

1.

A visit by a blues artist is an excellent way to have students “experience” the blues.

2.

Using the proper format ( 3 lines of four measures each with the rhyme scheme of A A B), students will compose a blues song or poem. An example used by a Blues in the Schools artist may be helpful:

I’m gonna teach these kids the blues, kids the blues, kids the blues.

I’m gonna teach these kids the blues.

We’re gonna make it fun.

Students may wish to work in pairs. As time permits, allow students to present their work to the class.

3.

Some students may wish to research a particular blues artist and present biographical facts in a creative manner.

4.

Blues music has a vocabulary all its own. Terms such as bottleneck slide, diddly-bow, field hollers, blue note, urban blues, juke joint, “Lucille, “ etc. may not be familiar to students. A Blues Vocabulary Guide could be constructed and illustrated.

5.

Students could find pictures of the different instruments used to play the blues and make a display.

6.

The migration of the blues to the “north” and its evolution into urban blues is a fascinating story. Interested students may wish to research this aspect of the topic.

7.

A list of modern singers who sing the blues or who have been influenced by blues music would appeal to students.

8.

In a creative manner, students will respond to the question: “How did blues give birth to rock’n roll, soul, or rap?”

RESOURCES

A.

Books

A Place Called Mississippi, edited by Marion Barnwell, University Press of Mississippi 1997. (Note: Contains an excerpt from W.C. Handy’s autobiography Father of the Blues. It is an excellent description of blues music as Handy first encountered it in the Mississippi Delta.)

Deep Blues, Robert Palmer, Penguin Books, 1982. (Note: This is an easily read musical and social history of the blues movement.)

All Shook Up–Mississippi Roots of American Popular Music, Mississippi Department of Archives and History. (Note: This is an excellent resource for students with numerous pictures and brief biographies of blues artists from Mississippi.)

Mississippi Writers, An Anthology, edited by Dorothy Abbott, University Press of Mississippi, 1991. (Note: Contains a copy of Etheridge Knight’s poem “A Poem for Myself (or Blues for a Mississippi Black Boy.)”

Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris, The University of North Carolina Press, 1989. (Note: The section on Blues Music is very helpful.)

B.

Videos
Available through the Mississippi History on Loan Program available from the Manship House Museum, 420 East Fortification Street, Jackson, MS 39202-2340, phone 601-961-4724:

1.

“Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen”

2.

“Good Mornin’ Blues”

3.

“The Land Where The Blues Began”

4.

“Delta Blues Singer: James “Sonny Ford” Thomas”

5.

“Mississippi Delta Blues”

6.

“The Blues Live Here”

7.

“Juke Joint Saturday Night”

8.

“In the Search for Robert Johnson”

9.

“That Rhythm, Those Blues”

10.

“The South Bank Show: John Lee Hooker”

11.

“About Mississippi: B.B. King”

12.

“All Shook Up: Mississippi Roots of American Popular Music”

C.

Web Sites

1.

www.thebluehighway.com

2.

blues.about.com

3.

www.deltabluesmuseum.org

4.

shs.starkville.k12.ms.us/
mswm/MSWritersAndMusicians/

D.

Records

1.

Robert Johnson–The Complete Recordings, Columbia Records

2.

The Roots of the Blues–A Tribute to the Robert Johnson Era, Columbia Records

3.

Muddy Waters–the Complete Plantation Recordings, Chess/MCA

4.

Unplugged, Eric Clapton, Reprise Records

E.

Newspapers
The following articles can be found in The Clarion-Ledger.

1.

“On the Trail of the Blues,” David Standish, August 30, 1998.

2.

“Floating the Blues River,” Gary Pettus, September 25, 1998.

3.

“Mississippi Has the Blues, Lori Herring, June 9-10, 2002.

F.

Museum

1.

Delta Blues Museum, 114 Delta Avenue, Clarksdale, MS 38614, 601-624-4461.

G.

Map

1.

Map of Mississippi Blues Musicians, available from Delta Blues Museum and Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, P.O. Box 1270, Clinton, MS 39060.

H.

Television Specials

1.

PBS special “The Blues” which originally aired September 28, 2003.

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