I love the Mississippi Delta. It is a magical mystical place, a place where life slows down to the loping rhythm of the blues, and it is a place time forgot. But there is a steep price for that in the lives of its poorest citizens.
Tutwiler is the tiny and poor Mississippi Delta town where Harmonica Hero Sonny Boy Williamson II is buried.
Every Jam Camp, I lead a caravan of campers up Highway 49 to the barely paved backroads of Tutwiler--caravaning through the old broken down buildings and homes where people are currently living.
We drive through the town, out to a peaceful field, where you find the graves of Sonny Boy's sisters who died in a house fire, and also the grave of the man himself. We stand in the field and I tell what I know about Sonny Boy Williamson II aka Willie Miller aka Rice aka The Goat.
Then we get in our cars, drive back through the abandoned streets and broken houses.
You do this, and in the high of jam camp, you think, there's got to be a way to connect
what I do to this place.
Then an article about the Tutwiler Health Clinic came out in the LA Times. It talked about Tutwiler, and about Dr. Anne Brooks, a doctor and Sister who runs the clinic and how there are people who cannot afford care that could get them out of pain, could save their lives.
Here's the article, in case you are interested.
As I read the article, and thought about Sonny Boy, the wandering harmonica minstrel
who wrote so many blues standards and whose 1st position harp styles will never be duplicated.
I had what I think is a really good idea: a way to let Sonny Boy lovers and blues lover around the world make a huge difference in the poor people of his region.
The idea is that because harmonica players love Sonny Boy so much, part of his legacy could be a fund WE Harp Players create for this tiny community to help the Tutwiler Health Clinic save lives and provide services. A Living Sonny Boy-Tutwiler-Harp Players-Charity.
My Visit with Sister Brooks
I arrived in Clarksdale a day early and drove out to Tutwiler and introduced myself to
Sister Anne Brooks, MD the nun/doctor who runs the clinic.
I told her my idea, and she told me she had tended to Sonny Boy's sisters before they died
in a housefire. She knew exactly where the grave was, and about Sonny Boy's legacy.
Sister Brook's suggestion was that we create a fund that would bring music instruction
to the Tutwiler Community Education Center, which she said was part of the health clinic.
This surprised me, but I guess Sister Brooks is into keeping people healthy
as much as she about helping them when they get sick.
The Community Education Center is in the center of town , which is
about one block from the edge of town. It is actually a newer building, a wonderful facility someone bought for Tutwiler. I was warmly greeted, and shown around.
There was one room with computers and teenagers studiously working.
In another room, a large auditorium, there were 50 or 60 senior citizens eating lunch at a tables.
My host introduced me in the most lavishing terms and I told them how great Sonny Boy Williamson was, and played a few verses of "Keep It To Yourself!"
A couple of women got up and danced.
Before I finally left the facility to ponder what I could do to make my dream of helping this town a reality, I was led into a small gift shop that sold quilts that were made by the women of Tutwiler.
The most beautiful handmade, brightly colored quilts you have ever seen. And the prices, a fraction of what they would cost in LA, or in any catalog. So happens we needed a quilt so I bought a King Size. http://www.tutwilerquilters.org
These quilts are made by the ladies of Tutwiler, and what a joy to sleep under!
So that's the story of the fund, and it is a chance for the love of music to make a tangible difference in the health and education of Sonny Boy's descendants.
And it is also a wider opportunity to have fun, throwing benefits with great musicians who I
hope will want to join in.
Drum Lessons with teacher Lee Williams These kids are starting to get it!.
These kids may not go to college, but learning to play an instrument will make them smart.
Tutwiler Kids playing bass, drums in group lesson provided by The Sonny Boy Club.
A 1 Day Harmonica Fest with Instruction, Jamming,
Feedback in the Heart of the Blues Country.
Great live footage of Sonny Boy and the legendary Otis Spann (piano) doing Sonny's Boy's "Nine Below Zero."
Sonny Boy in bowler performing "What's Going To Happen to You?"
Who Was Sonny Boy?
Shrouded in mystery and myth, the man known as Sonny Boy Williamson is one
of the most beloved and influential bluesmen of all time.
Alex “Rice” Miller was born in Glendora MS probably on December 5, 1912 and died May 25, 1965 in Helena AR.
Known throughout his career as "Sonny Boy Williamson II," "Little Boy Blue," and "The Goat," he wrote over a hundred songs including classics like “Don’t Start Me Talkin,’” "One Way Out" (with Elmore James), "Help Me,", “Your Funeral and My Trial,” “Fattenin’ Frogs For Snakes,” “Bye, Bye Bird.”
Sonny Boy was a long and lanky rambling harp player and song maker, who, starting in 1941, was featured on the daily radio show on KFFA’s "King Biscuit Time" broadcast out of radio station from Helena, Ark.
The show starred Sonny Boy, playing harp and singing and advertising that night’s gig. The show was sponsored by King Biscuit Flour and, in 1947, Sonny Boy Corn Meal.
Young bluesmen BB King, James Cotton, Little Walter and hundreds of Delta born bluesmen were influenced by hearing his radio show and some, including B. B. King even got exposure on his shows.
Sonny Boy was featured on the 1963 and 1964 American Folk Blues Festivals in Europe where he played to great acclaim in nearly 100 shows mostly in 2500-3500 capacity concert halls.
Always dapper in performance, even in
Mississippi, Sonny Boy's
bowler hat and cane
delighted his European fans
and became a trademark
known throughout the world.
In 1938, Sonny Boy electrified harmonica
playing flatbed truck gigs in the fields for the Mississippi workers. They would use the truck battery to amplify
his voice and harp loud enough to be heard throughout the fields.
Sonny Boy became such a powerful force in the blues
world it was hard for the other bluesmen to get gigs.
His grooves and lyrics have
become the bread and butter
of countless musicians.
Sonny Boy II was a genius, and judging by his songs and old stories, he was a rascal who did what he could to survive, and every bluesman in the world owes him a musical debt of gratitude and inspiration, especially blues harp players. We study his music, sing his songs, learn his riffs, visit his grave in a field about a mile outside of Tutwiler, Mississippi.
One way to say, "Hey Sonny Boy!" is to donate to this poverty-stricken town's Health Clinic and Education Center near where Sonny Boy is buried.
For more information about the life of Sonny Boy, visit http://SonnyBoy.com
Why I Started the Sonny Boy Club
by Jon Gindick
The Sonny Boy Legacy
Music Education and Performance Program of Tutwiler, Mississippi
Teaching Guitar, Bass Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
and Harmonica to the kids of Tutwiler, Mississippi
at The Tutwiler Community Education Center.
Teachers: Heather Crosse and Lee Williams
Sponsored by The Sonny Boy Club
Sonny Boy Williamson is buried in a field about two miles from where these kids are getting introduced to drums, bass, guitar by two excellent teachers and players from Clarksdale, Mississippi.
The idea is that these kids will start bands and enjoy all the mental benefits and fun of a musical education. The classes are held weekly at the beautiful Tutwiler Educational Center and are the result of contributions of time and money from harmonica players, blues lovers and Sonny Boy Williamson afficiandos around the world.
While many of the Tutwilwer might not make it to college, it is well known as a scientific and observable fact that making music makes people smarter. The classes have been going on almost a year now. Most of the kids are still just learning to handle their instruments, but a couple of them are protogee types.
This is one of the few things in life where you can easily make a REAL DIFFERENCE in
a kids life. Every penny goes to instruments, and to the teachers. Make your contribution DIRECTLY to the Tutwiler Educational Center and designate Sonny Boy Club.
The Tutwiler Community Education Center, headed by Sister Maureen Delaney, operates on funding from many different sources and offers classes in poetry, photography, computer lab and more to the children in this blighted area with a rich musical past. The Tutwiler Quilting Society and local sports teams are also housed in the center and its gym.
Please Help Us Buy Instruments, and Keep the Program Going Year 'Round.
$80 will buy a pretty good guitar.
$140 will provide two hours instruction for 30 kids.
Welcome to the Sonny Boy Club's
2nd annual 1- Day
Blues Harp Mini-Jam Camp
at the Shack Up Inn Blues Chapel
Clarksdale, Missisippi & Tutwiler, Missisippi
Monday, May 20, 2013
1pm to 8pm
Mentoring you, Jammin' with you,
plus getting instruments and instructors to the kids in Mississippi and San Diego.
Join Jon Gindick and Jam Camp coaches for our third annual Special Sonny Boy Mini Jam Camp to raise money for the Tutwiler Music Program, and to give players of all levels a wonderful day with other harmonica lovers, Get feedback and instruction from Jam Camp Coaches, and see great performances, jam with the band. Get help on bending, improvisation, tone, tongue-blocking, singing, and more. There will be a guided tour to Sonny Boy's grave, a great afternoon lunch and for everyone, there will be plenty of jamming with the band. ALL proceeds will go Tutwiler.
with World-Class Guests:
Cheryl Arena, Hash Brown, TJ Klay, Brian Purdy, Jon Gindick
a great band, and other harp good guys and musicians helping for free to raise money to teach music to kids in the town where SB II is buried.
Profits go 100% to creating and sustaining this program -- and
you will come away a stimulated and excited harp player,
no matter what your level.
This will be a Harp Monday to remember!
Much love, respect and attention for all degrees of skill.
This seminar is about you.
The day will hit you on many different levels, with harp instruction for all levels,
a visit to SB II grave, and to the Tutwiler Education Center Center where you can see the classes going on.
Plus an electric jam for all attendees in the evening.
Get Your New Life on Blues Harp Here:
By purchasing in advance, you help us manage the seminar and save $10.
Enrollment will close at about 40 people.
$65 donation, purchased in advance
$75 at the door
Many thanks to Cheryl Arena, Hash Brown, Brian Purdy, TJ Klay, and the Shack Up Inn for donating their time and talent last year to make the Sonny Boy Club Fundraiser a nice success.
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Celebration of Blues Harmonica Hero
Sonny Boy Williamson Inspires Music Program
for Kids in Tutwiler, Mississippi
Jon Gindick and Blues Harmonica Jam Camp present The Sonny Boy Fest,
a 1-day mini Jam Camp on Monday, May 20 at The Shack Up Inn
in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Starting at 1 pm and going until 8 pm, this day for harmonica players will focus on teaching beginners and intermediates the arts of blues harmonica and plain old fashion jamming fun. Jon Gindick is the world’s best-selling instruction author on harmonica, and his seminars are world famous for involving everyone who attends. Coaches include top pros and trained teachers.
There will be different classes for players of all levels, a band for jamming, and a field trip to Sonny Boy Williamson’s grave. The cost is $65 online or $75 at the door. Harmonicas will be on sale for $15.00. Proceeds will go to the Tutwiler Community Education Center which operates the Sonny Boy Music Program in the town of Tutwiler, where blues hero Sonny Boy Williamson II is buried.
In 2011 and 2012, from contributions from harmonica players all over the world, over 25 children took twice-weekly classes from local blues musicians in bass, drums, harmonica and guitar for most of the school year and through the summer. The program has also purchased 10 guitars, amps, keyboards and 2 sets of drums. You Tube videos of the Sonny Boy Club’s website show the improvement as the kids get better and better.
Inspired from his first visit to Tutwiler in 2008, Sonny Boy Club donor and jam camper, Ed Masterson of New Jersey, has purchased the historic Hamilton home, which he intends to restore and turn into a music and arts center. The property covers several acres and Masterson’s plans include a “Hambone Hamilton” Amphitheatre, a Sonny Boy musical summer camp for kids, and continued weekly lessons for the children of Tutwiler.
Another Jam Camper, Robert Venetucci, visited the bluesman’s grave and toured the Educational Center. He noticed the computers in the Center’s after school program were old. Within six weeks, Venetucci sent 10 refurbished much newer computers as a donation from Portrait Innovations, the company for whom he is a tech executive.
The Tutwiler Community Educational Center, operated by Sister Maureen Delaney, operates on funding from many different sources and offers classes in poetry, photography, computer lab and more to the children in this blighted area with a rich musical past. The Tutwiler Quilting Society and local sports teams are also housed in the center and its gym.
It is only by passing through the town of Tutwiler to visit Sonny Boy Williamson’s grave that Gindick, Masterson, and Venetucci became inspired. The once charming Main Street is mostly shuttered brick buildings and the nearest school is several miles away. There are no gangs in Tutwiler, but there is the Tutwiler Community Education Center and kids making music. There are also lots of old buildings that you can get for taxes, and some people with a dream of making the world a better place.
Those seeking more information are encouraged to visit www.Sonnyboyclub.com
or call Jon Gindick at 310-457-8278