News & Events
The blues has a long history in the United States, one that stretches from the plantation fields to Carnegie Hall and beyond. Taking students and guests on a tour of the music's travels and travails was self-proclaimed "blues addict" Cleveland Kurtz, who visited campus to deliver a lecture in the library's Heritage Room titled, "Folklore and Folk Music in the American South."
"We keep the music alive, that's what we try to do," Mr. Kurtz said of the Rhode Island Rhythm & Blues Preservation Society, of which he is president and CEO. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting and preserving the African American heritage, tradition, folklore and history of blues music through public education. This work includes providing musical instruments to children who can't afford them, as well as visiting schools like Bridgewater to ruminate on the blues, its history and impact.
Mr. Kurtz recalled how the blues initially had the reputation of being "the devil's music." Coming of age in Florida in the 1950s, the son of a gospel singer mother and a father who was a church deacon, he struggled with this notion. In order to hear the Saturday night R & B program that first introduced him to the music he told the audience he had to sneak a radio into his bed.
"I'd listen to it very carefully," he said. "In order to listen to the blues I had to put myself in danger of going to hell."
Soon, Alan Lomax recordings introduced him to the rural blues, and from that point on it was just a matter of digging deeper and then letting his taste expand to incorporate electric blues, jazz, big band and traditional gospel music.
The lecture was sponsored by the Anthropology Department, and organized by Dr. Michael Zimmerman, a visiting lecturer in the department, who added his own insights into the history of the blues.
The lecture ended with a few audio clips featuring the music of Son House, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf and others.
Mr. Kurtz said he believed the future of the blues and R & B was safe, however, he did express concern for the future of a related genre.
"I have my fears about traditional gospel music," he told the young people in the room. "Grab it and hold on to it for me."
(Story and photo by John Winters, G'11, Office of University Advancement)