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3rd annual 'Blues in the Schools' program to be held in West Memphis

NOTE: The special performance by the New Orleans Jazz Ramblers Monday night, March 31, at 7 p.m., has been cancelled due to inclement weather.

March 25, 2008 -- Arkansas State University’s Arkansas Folklife Program will sponsor the third annual "Blues in the Schools" project in West Memphis scEssie "the Blues Lady" Neal of Sweet Home is one of this year's musicians in residence for the third annual "Blues in the Schools" program in West Memphis.hools Monday-Tuesday, March 31-April 1. The two-day event kicks off with a special performance by members of the New Orleans Jazz Ramblers Monday, March 31, at 7 p.m. at the West Memphis Public Library. Admission is free. At 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 1, Essie "the Blues Lady" Neal and the New Orleans Jazz Ramblers will be musicians in residence at West Memphis Christian School, this year’s host school for the program.

Essie Neal, of Sweet Home, Arkansas, shares her love of the blues with audiences of all ages through the Arkansas Arts Council’s Arts on Tour program. She is also the 2003 winner of Little Rock’s Over-40 Revue, has performed in the 2002 and 2003 telethons for the United Negro College Fund, and has performed as a featured artist at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas.

The New Orleans Jazz Ramblers, famous in their hometown for their authentic New Orleans jazz, were blown to Memphis by Hurricane Katrina. Band leader and saxophonist Stephen Foster has played with numerous jazz legends, including Duke Ellington, and is a noted musical educator. Members of the New Orleans Jazz Ramblers include Joy Foster, Warner Williams, Bryan Cayolle, Joe Sellmansberger, Dr. E. Ron Horton, Jim Mahanah, James Sexton, Antonio Murphy and Rashienne Webb.

Presenters include Dr. Mike Luster, director, Arkansas Folklife Program; Dr. E. Ron Horton, director, ASU jazz studies program; Dr. Gregory Hansen, assistant professor of English and Folklore at ASU; Simon Hosken, event organizer and Heritage Studies graduate student at ASU; and Caroline Redfearn, director, West Memphis Public Library.

Dr. Horton currently performs on trumpet with the New Orleans Jazz Ramblers in addition to directing ASU’s jazz studies program. He says, “I am really proud to be a part of the ‘Blues in the Schools’ Program. This is the best possible way to introduce the arts to students; it will have a real impact on their way of thinking and their education. We will be combining history and music in a manner that will bring art to life for those students. On Tuesday, we will combine regional musical history with one of the best jazz bands in the country. I know that this program will have a long life, and I hope that it will be used as a model for other parts of Arkansas and the nation.”

The "Blues in the Schools" annual programs are supported by Arkansas State University’s Department of English and Philosophy and that department’s Delta Blues Symposium,
as well as the Heritage Studies PhD program, all housed within ASU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Additional grant support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. with grant support from the National Endowment for the Arts. ASU’s Office of Admissions and the Division of Student Affairs also provide support for the program. Tammy Fowler, director of Admissions, says, “We value the Mississippi Delta and its people, and we want to support the preservation of this region’s rich musical heritage.”

The event is geared toward students from grades 7-12 throughout the region. Last year, some four hundred students attended, and according to Simon Hosken, roughly the same number of students will participate this year.

Hosken’s involvement with “Blues in the Schools” began in his practicum in ASU’s  Heritage Studies PhD program, an interdisciplinary doctoral program that is the only one of its kind in the nation. “This year’s program,” says Hosken, “is all about taking the blues home.” Hosken goes on to say, “I would argue that West Memphis, Arkansas, is more of a home to the blues than Memphis. The importance of this program for West Memphis cannot be understated. This is an opportunity to convey the history of West Memphis to some of the city’s children and help to preserve some of the rich heritage of West Memphis in the development of the blues.”

For more information, contact Simon Hosken at (901) 921-4112 or via e-mail at Space is still available for school groups interested in attending this year’s program; to attend with a school group, contact Lynette Bankston, guidance counselor, West Memphis Christian School, at (870) 400-4000 or via e-mail at



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