Roots N Blues Foundation provides local music education programs

The charity that brought Blues in the Schools hopes to bring music education to other places in mid-Missouri as well.

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As Columbia prepares for the 13th annual Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival, the festival’s nonprofit arm looks toward the future. The Roots N Blues Foundation has worked to provide music education throughout mid-Missouri since 2013.

Through its Blues in the Schools program, the foundation has given students the opportunity to learn and perform with guest musicians, as well as learn about American music history.

Anne Kelly Moore, vice president of Roots N Blues Foundation, noted that Blues in the Schools uses music as a way to educate kids on other topics.

“They learn about slavery and civil rights and they learn about U.S. history,” Moore said. “They learn about the migration of the blues from the Mississippi Delta to St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago, so they learn about geography as well”.

Mary Wilkerson, president and one of the original board members of the Roots N Blues Foundation, said the foundation is looking to expand its focus beyond the classroom.

“We’re going to continue to do Blues in the Schools, but we’re also going to do different kinds of music education programs,” Wilkerson said. “For example, working with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia to help kids take music lessons [and] providing kids with instruments so they can actually take music lessons.”

Through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia, the foundation hopes to launch the Missouri Roots Songbook Academy in 2020. According to the Roots N Blues website, the academy will educate middle schoolers in American roots music and allow them to apply for a four-year scholarship and mentorship program. Wilkerson sees it as a way to educate children in new and different ways.

“In some cases, it might be bringing people to perform,” Wilkerson said. ”In some cases, it may be teaching music classes. In some cases, it might be helping a kid to attend a music school or program. Really, it’s about exposing kids to different forms of music and to develop their own abilities.”

Moore says that programs like Blues in the Schools are well-loved by local students.

“You see the light in [the students’] eyes and the joy that they have from [Blues In The Schools] and also know that they are truly learning some great reasoning skills, geography, culture and civil rights,” Moore said in a 2016 interview with COMO Living magazine.

A change in focus from school programs to extracurricular programs has led to a decline in the amount of Blues in the Schools events supported by Roots N Blues Foundation funding.

“This year I think there is just one school participating,” Wilkerson said. “In the past, we’ve had as many as 20 to 28. We hope to get back to that level with some new programs going forward.”

The foundation will hold its annual Blues in the Schools Family Fest on Sept. 30 at Stephens Lake Park. Students will showcase some of the musical skills learned through the programs. Locals can also support the nonprofit at this year’s festival by making donations at the box office or at any of the cash wristband stations.

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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