Etiquette and Blues at Donoghue School

I love the blues. And I’m not the only one. This 20th century form of African American music has spread around the world, because it is a universal cry for understanding of the joys and sorrows people go through every day. Relationships, mean bosses, poverty, injustice, but also love and fun: that’s what makes blues songs. The late Willie Dixon, Chicago bass player and songwriter, said it best: “Blues is the facts of life.” Telling the facts of your life, you find people other people in the same boat, and that togetherness makes everyone feel better. Like the rhymes and rhythms of hiphop and the praises of gospel, blues music is best done with a group to reinforce the lead poet or singer. Not only the words, but the sound of blues is healing. Black people in America pieced this music together, a simple quilt with brilliant colors, from African rhythms, Native American chants, and European instruments. Like a quilt, the blues tells a story. As the tale is told, the music builds up tension and, at the end, releases it. Wrap up your problem in three lines and make fun of it; somehow life does not seem as bad. A grownup blues audience will groove to the music, toes tapping, fingers popping, eyes half closed, maybe a few people dancing near the bandstand. Some of the kids in our afterschool blues classes picked up the same groove when we first played for them. Right away they noticed that the blues is “relaxing” music. Relaxed, but still aware of life. What does blues have to do with etiquette? At Donoghue Elementary, a South Side school, afterschool students were offered our Chicago School of Blues class, sponsored by Rock for Kids . At the same time, etiquette an etiquette class was going on, sponsored by the Etiquette Foundation of Illinois. Teachers at Donoghue train their students in “Mutual Respect.” This concept was practiced equally well in the quiet, sitdown tea party that concluded the etiquette class, and also in the final exuberant day of our blues class on Dec. 18. When the youth got rowdy and talked out of turn or someone tried to bully someone, the teachers quickly reminded them to practice “Mutual Respect.” Music is a way to express your feelings in a disciplined, masterful, joyful way. There is a time for the call and a time for the response. You play and sing in the pattern of the rhythm. At our Donoghue classes, our Chicago School of Blues band, composed of 30-year professional West and South Side musicians, aimed to practice “Mutual Respect.” Kids took turns putting their hands on the piano or on CC Copeland’s bass, West Side Wes’s drums, and Killer Ray Allison’s guitar. Abb Locke, who once played for Howlin’ Wolf, flashed his golden horn. We played a Temptations riff as the kids tried rapping their own rhymes. Clean rhymes, including one about Donoghue School! The youngsters danced as the band got funky with the songs of James Brown. Then we showed the kids how to sing a blues tune in the form of earlier generations. Before long they picked up the pattern and began to sing. Let the good times roll! We tell kids in our classes that blues is part of their heritage and one of America’s greatest gifts to the world. When you learn your history, you can respect yourself and where you come from. When you share the feeling with others, it’s Mutual Respect. When it comes right down to it, mutual respect is the foundation of courtesy and etiquette. Going by the same rules. Treating others as you would like to be treated.

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