Fourth-graders A’mya Atkins, Zacahary Payne, Treven Richards, Ivan Sanchez, Daniel Melendrez, Shalanda Henry and Valerie Rodriguez of Bdulong Elementary School did not know who B. B. King, Etta James or Roy Gaines was, but they learn about them during a most festive Black History celebration on Tuesday Feb. 26.
The event, ‘Blues!…Why Blues & Latina Music?’ an ongoing educational tour to inform about the legacy of Blues made famous by King, James, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Ray Charles is the creation of Carolyn Washington-Gaines who was raised in the industry.
Displaying artwork that she produced when she was in elementary school herself, Gaines the daughter of Roy Gaines was a teacher for a day to separate assemblies that consisted of 600 students at Budlong School.
As the anxious students began to take their seats in the auditorium for the event one could not help but notice the often-blank look on their faces as a set of drums and a microphone sat idle on the stage.
Clearly they had no idea what to expect while their teachers and aids were most enthused to digest some calming music for the stormy day that normally engulfs them.
Carolynn Gaines began by telling the students that B.B. King was the king of Blues and Etta James was the queen, and in a chorus they repeated after her the names they had just been told.
Her lesson guided them from the early 1800s with the invention of the wax album to the modern days of the CD and also offered them an opportunity to not just sit and listen, but to participate in singing the blues.
That was an exercise that young Atkins didn’t quite warm to, but her singing partner Payne could have won an audition for his routine.
Equally impressive in repeating Blues melodies were Sanchez, Melendrez, Rodriguez and Henry, but that was only the beginning of the fun.
After Gaines began his stint with a stirring guitar stick, you could feel the energy of the students who could not wait to exit their seats and join in.
Subsequently they did and when the Blues great hit Twist it was a party for 300 plus fourth-graders, spinning, clapping, singing and dancing in a most unique celebration of Black history that transformed into a collaboration of two ethnic groups whose challenges similar.
It was the kids who reminded us as adults that life is not as difficult as we might think, and it was they who taught us a lesson on a day when we thought we were teaching them.
In the end it took a genre of music that was foreign to both young Blacks and Hispanics, and it demonstrated the power of a music that is capable of unifying us regardless of what age, race or creed we might be.