Sonny Boy’s “Kids of Tutwiler” Music Program
Inspired by Sonny Boy Williamson II, Blues Harmonica Jam Camp decided to start a blues school for the kids of Tutwiler, Mississippi– just two miles from Sonny Boy’s grave. The Tutwiler Educational Center accepts donations from harp player’s everywhere to keep the program growing. Now in its fourth year, the program teaches guitar, bass guitar and drums. Our talented teachers have developed powerful relationships with the kids.
Click here to make a difference in these kid’s lives. $100 buys one hour of instruction from three gifted teachers for 20 to 30 kids.
On the way to Sonny Boy Williamson’s countryside grave, I always lead a car caravan of Jam Campers through Tutwiler, Mississippi. This tiny town is broken down with boarded and burnt houses and shops, abandoned streets.
In my role as tour guide to blues harmonica history, I point out the nailed-down funeral parlor where Emmit Till was interred, the ruins of the train station where W.C. Handy first heard a slide guitar scratching the blues.
Tutwiler, Mississippi is a tiny town about 10 miles south of Clarksdale.
About a mile out of town, we come to the country cemetery with its raised graves and tilted headstones. This is where Sonny Boy is buried; in this wonderful field where the only sounds are the birds and the breeze.
Once prosperous, Tutwiler has fallen on hard times. The resiliency of the residents, the generosity of caring people worldwide, and the help of a group of hard working doctors and educators has made all the difference.
It’s always a little odd to lead ten to fifteen shiny cars through these haunted streets to get to Sonny Boy’s grave site. I wanted to help out in some way. Through an article in the Los Angeles Times, I discovered the Tutwiler Medical Clinic and the Tutwiler Educational Center, two wonderful Catholic Church-affiliated facilities that provide medical care and educational opportunities for the locals.
Since I am a blues musician and into Sonny Boy, Sister Anne Brooks and Sister Maureen Delaney suggested I start a music program for the kids. With the help of Jam Camper, Ed Masterson, local musician-teachers were hired, money and instruments were donated, local kids recruited to learn music–and the program was under way.
We hired our teachers, Heather Crosse on bass, Lee Williams on drums, and David Dunavent who specializes in guitar at $30 an hour. They teach two classes a day, twice a week–one for the little kids and one for the teenagers-with a focus on bass, drums, guitar, vocals and creating bands.
Serving 30 to 40 kids each year, the program has run for three years and relies on fundraisers and money gifts of all sizes. Every dollar is used to pay our three great teachers. And yes, there is a very easy way, you can get involved. Currently, the kids have band practice two hours a week, building their chops and confidence.
Built 20 years ago from grants inspired by a “60 Minutes” special, the center is part of the Tutwiler Medical Clinic, headed by Sister Anne Brooks, a surgeon who brought her vision of serving the poor to a place where she is needed most.
Our young musicians took a big step forward by performing at the Juke Joint music festival in Clarksdale, 15 miles away. They even got their picture in the local Delta Business Journal magazine. Then they performed at the first annual Tutwiler Day.
These kids may not make it to college but learning music, teamwork, discipline will build their brains, and make them smarter, help them feel pride. Plus making music is so much fun.
I wish I had had these classes when I was a kid.
The last thing I want to mention is the generosity of my fans and of Jam Campers.
This is what makes the program run. The picture here is over Jam Camper Steve “Tuna” Tornavich giving Sister Maureen a check for 2k that he raised at a blues benefit in Nantucket. He’s not the only one.
How much does it cost to run? We pay our teachers $30 an hour. With three teachers working in two hour blocks twice a week, we have formed a younger kids band, and an older kids band, and service about 40 children. At this point, our only cost is the $180 a day, or $360 a week. In other words, $360 a week buys four hours of class for 20 to 30 kids each week.
Your contributions go directly to the Tutwiler Educational Center, which is a legal non profit charity. We already have instruments and the facility, so every dime goes to the classroom time and you simply tell them it is for the music program. The last time I sent this out, we raised a few hundred dollars. Thank you so much!
The Tutwiler Educational Center accepts PayPal donations. It is all tax deductible.
If you’d like to help out, click above or below.