Digital Media Archive established at Delta Blues Museum
- Shelley Ritter, Executive Director, DBM
- Scott Ainslie, CEO, Cattail Music, Ltd.
Blues Guitarists and Singers Give Back:
New Delta Blues Museum Media Archive established to pass the music to a new generation
[Clarksdale, MS – May 11, 2011] Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson was born in Mississippi on May 8, 1911. Following closely on the centennial celebrations of Johnson’s birth, a new Delta Blues Museum Media Archive has been established at the Delta Blues Museum as a way of assuring that the legacy of original performers of this great American musical tradition will live for another hundred years. Filled with hundreds of hours of Blues instructional DVDs for guitarists, singers and keyboard players – as well as archival footage of senior performers like Son House, Skip James, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters – the archive promises to be a windfall for the life of the museum.
The DVDs – donated by individual teachers, by Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, and Happy Traum’s Homespun Tapes – will be a vital resource for the Delta Blues Museum’s Arts and Education Program and for visiting musicians interested in pursuing the music the Delta Blues Museum was established to celebrate.The idea for the DBM Media Archive was hatched by Robert Johnson authority and musician Scott Ainslie and the DBM Executive Director Shelley Ritter after Ainslie’s guitar workshop and master class at the museum.
“We were driving up to Memphis together, talking over the workshop and the Arts and Education Program,” Ainslie said. “I had donated a copy of my instructional DVD Robert Johnson/Guitar Signature Licks to the museum as a resource for the program and it occurred to me that I knew a lot of people who had instructional material and that we might be able to establish a non-lending library of instructional and archival material as a resource for use within the museum by the public and the Arts and Education students, volunteers and staff.”
Executive Director Shelley Ritter embraced the idea and from his home in southern Vermont, Ainslie began making phone calls. Stefan Grossman was his first call.
Ainslie explained, “I called Stefan to explore the idea with him. His Guitar Workshop and Vestapol DVD catalogue is remarkably deep in both instructional DVDs and archival footage of senior performers. His response was humbling.”
Grossman told Ainslie to go through the online catalogue and make a list of titles and product numbers. Grossman would send him whatever he wanted.
“I launched into their online catalog and started listing titles that I thought would be useful and relevant to the Delta Blues Museum’s mission and the students in the Arts and Education Program,” Ainslie says. “When I counted up the titles, I was a little embarrassed to find 85 of them! I wrote Stefan an email.”
Ainslie sent Grossman an email apologizing for finding 85 titles and suggesting that if this was a number that understandably caused him to choke a bit, he could send back a number of titles that he was comfortable donating to the museum and Ainslie would cull his list. Ainslie didn’t anticipate Grossman’s response:
“No problem with 85 titles. As I said it’s my pleasure to send the DVDs. Just give me the catalog numbers and they can ship via UPS on Wednesday or Friday. – Stefan”
A few days later a large box from the Guitar Workshop arrived on Ainslie’s front porch. According to Ainslie, Happy Traum at Homespun Tapes did the same thing. The Homespun box arrived a week later.
“Grossman, Traum and I have all had the life-changing honor and pleasure of working with senior musicians in this tradition,” Ainslie says. “We have each been moved, inspired, and compelled to take up the music of this region and we all see this as a way of giving back to a culture and a people who have given so much to the rest of us. There was no hesitation. No question. The responses have been most heartening.”
Receiving the collection for the museum, Ritter said, “These DVD’s are a wonderful addition to our Arts and Education program. These works will provide a more formal form of instruction – and one that is accessible outside of regular class hours. They will provide our young musicians with a terrific opportunity for individual learning while serving our classes as well.”
Ainslie’s now after getting a large flat screen plasma television donated to facilitate viewing of the material by the Arts and Education Programs students. With supporting funds from the Mississippi Arts Commission for the museum and its after school Blues program, students learn to understand and play music in a band setting, keeping the history and music of the Delta blues alive. Students of all ages are taught to play the blues on the instrument or instruments of their choice. Instruments – drums, guitars, and keyboards – are provided by the museum for use in the classroom and authorized performances. As they can, students are encouraged to purchase their own instruments.
Instructors, who are local musicians, utilize the oral tradition, recorded music, video instruction, books and handouts to augment their interactions with the students in the classroom environment. The students learn the basics of playing the music and how to work together as a band.
According to Ainslie, the Arts and Education Program at the Delta Blues Museum is changing lives. “The Delta Blues Museum’s Arts and Education Program provides students with a sense of the magnitude of the musical and artistic contributions of Delta musicians,” Ainslie says. “Many of these kids get their first glimpse of their own artistic and musical heritage and their personal ability to engage with that heritage and make a difference in their own lives sitting in class at the Delta Blues Museum. This is not a small thing.”
“In rich communities,” Ainslie notes, “the arts can become like a piece of jewelry, a status symbol, a luxury. But in small communities, the arts are vital – a matter of survival. And the Blues, perhaps more than any other art form, are about survival. If you can get up in the morning and – no matter what they’ve done to you – you can get up and sing – if you can rise up above the hard luck in your life and raise your voice in song – then you win! That’s all there is to it. If you can get up and sing; you win!”
Both Ainslie and Executive Director Ritter believe that the new Delta Blues Museum Media Archive is going to be helping new generations raise their voices to make joyful, sorrowful – and danceable – noises. And if they do, as Ainslie notes – they win.