Breaking News
More () »

'Blues is the roots' | Billy Branch teaches lesson on Black history, music to kids

Blues musician Billy Branch visited Ridgewood Elementary to give the children a lesson in blues music and its impact on American history.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill — Students at Ridgewood Elementary School in Rock Island sat in awe as they started their Thursday morning with Emmy-winning and Grammy-nominated blues artist Billy Branch for a lesson in Black history.

Branch has been teaching blues music to children worldwide for over 30 years with his program, Blues in Schools.

"I played the blues all over the world and even in countries that they don't understand the words because they don't speak English," Branch said. "It just resonates (with) their spirit."

His music program, according to Branch's website, provides students with the opportunity to gain a multicultural appreciation, broaden their horizons, explore music interests and increase their understanding of American history.

"It's a way for us, during Black History Month, to bring something to them that they now can experience and understand how it interacts in the history of the U.S.," Ridgewood music teacher Mara Goodwin said.

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society partnered with Branch to introduce a forgotten music genre to Quad Cities schools. Thursday's music lesson was Branch's fourth time visiting the Quad Cities.

"Blues is the roots," Branch said. "All of America's music came from jazz, rock, hip-hop, everything. And it's important to know … the source, and the blues, unfortunately, is not celebrated as much."

Students learned to catch the beat with the help of Branch's harp. 

"Muddy Waters was the man that put Chicago blues on the map," Branch said. "Koko Tayler… She was the queen of the blues. She was just fantastic."

The assembly had the students look back on where the blues all started to learn that the emotion behind the rhythm is more than music.

"I've had youngsters write songs about social unrest, about prejudice, about wars," Branch said. "So it's just making them aware that the blues is what you go through - happy or sad - in your day-to-day life."

► Download the WQAD News 8 App
► Subscribe to our daily newsletter
► Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Before You Leave, Check This Out