Harmonikids Hohner-Sponsored Session with Troubled Youth in the Mississippi Delta
15 July, 2017
Often my Harmonikids sessions have particularly deep-rooted personal meaning. This is especially true in the case of my return visits to the Sunflower Landing facility in Mississippi. So much of the music and musicians that made the Blues the most popular and beloved music ever to be played on the harmonica came from rural towns in the Mississippi Delta. Howling Wolf, James Cotton, and Sonny Boy Williamson are just a few of the great Blues harpmen to come directly from the area. In my teens I had the unsurpassed thrill of witnessing the legendary Clarksdale, Mississippi-born Bluesman Muddy Waters perform with his band that included the legendary Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton, and Bob Margolin. The experience changed my life and shaped my musical direction.
I imagined myself playing with them someday. Many years down the road, my dream was realized when I found myself performing on stages with two of these Bluesmen - Bob Margolin and Pinetop Perkins (who I also recorded with). In fact, several years ago in an unforgettable moment of my life, Pinetop told me to "keep the business going". This was not just another reason to take my work of "Keeping the Blues Alive" seriously - but direct orders from one of the last great Mississippi Bluesmen himself. I simply replied "yes sir." In June I had the opportunity to return and continue my efforts to honor this promise in my fifth year as the harmonica instructor at the Pinetop Perkins Foundation Masterclass in Clarksdale. Suitably, foundation board member Bob Margolin is also the musical director.
To further my commitment, and in tribute to the legacy of the great Blues harpmen of this hallowed ground, I arranged another special Blues Harmonikids session to benefit youth in the vicinity who are facing special challenges in their lives. Sunflower Landing is an innovative, home-like long-term residential treatment facility for adolescents with substance abuse and related problems in rural Dublin, Mississippi. This was the fifth time I conducted a Hohner-sponsored Harmonikids session at the facility. Notably, Sunflower Landing is located directly on US Route 49, the notorious highway traveled by the famous Delta Blues legends and the subject of many songs of the genre. To make the session extra special I invited my friend, fellow musician, and Pinetop Perkins Foundation Board member Randy Armentrout to assist on guitar.
As in my previous visits, the 90 minute session on June 18 was a resounding success. The young participants enthusiastically cheered and applauded to as Randy and I played several Blues songs and explained their deep roots and significance to their homeland. They loved hearing the Blues and they were delighted with the gift of shiny new Hohner-donated Bluesband harmonicas. Closely following my instruction and the music sheets I provided, the youth beamed with pride as they quickly and accurately learned four Blues songs on their instruments. Confidence and self-esteem soared. The joy both during and following the session was palpable and as we left the sound of harmonicas filled the air. Perhaps the lasting benefits of Hohner and Harmonikids gift to these troubled adolescents is best described in supervisors Josh Bamberg and Joey Dycus's notes of thanks. To me, giving these youth harmonicas is like planting seeds of joy and hope in the fertile Mississippi Delta. My wish is that the the healing power of the Blues played on them will grow and bring the promise of possibilities and dreams to some of these challenged youth - and perhaps make a positive difference in their lives as it has in mine and so many others.
~ Gary Allegretto, Founding Director of Harmonikids, www.harmonikids.org
"Thanks so much for coming out and doing a session with the Sunflower Landing kids. They enjoyed it so much. The residential halls have definitely been more musical since Saturday. We have been listening to them practice their harmonicas all day. Your wonderful talent has inspired many of them to explore their musical side also. Hope to see you again next year. Again, thank you so much."
~ Josh Bamberg, Weekend Supervisor, Sunflower Landing Treatment Center
"Most of these kids have been hurt and let down by the people who are supposed to love them the most, and any experience that shows them that people do really care and that they are worthy of a life that consists of them pursuing their dreams helps to build them back up!"
~ Joseph Dycus, Supervisor, Sunflower Landing Treatment Center