Unusual classroom teaches inspiration

MARQUETTE – “Come on now, don’t be shy,” said Mississippi blues musician Grady Champion, enticing students seated in the front row of Kaufmann Auditorium to get out of their chairs and dance.

“It makes you feel good,” he said. “Blues doesn’t always have to be sad.”

Pointing out a Powell Township middle schooler who was nodding her head along with the music, he smiled and said, “She just feels it.”

Feeling the music was one of the main messages Champion, a veteran blues musician of about 20 years, was hoping to impart on the students.

Champion’s visit Friday was sponsored by the Marquette Blues Society. He performed a live show later that evening as well, also in the Kaufmann Auditorium.

“One of the things we hold near and dear to our hearts is the education factor, trying to show young people what’s going on with this music and what it’s all about, trying to get them interested in it,” said blues society board member and founder Walt Lindala before the hour-long educational show. “Young folks are going to find out about (the blues), and hear about it, and it’s a cool opportunity to see some great players and maybe even inspire another generation of players.”

Champion is currently on tour, promoting his newest album “Tough Times Don’t Last,” which was released Feb. 5, according to his website,

Linda Fluery, middle school teacher for Powell Township, accompanied a group of her students to the show. She said music education is an important part of young kids’ lives.

“We think it’s part of our education to have some exposure to good music, that’s part of their education,” Fluery said. “The arts are important, so, here we are.”

Fluery said many of the students had never heard the blues before, and assumed it was sad music with sad lyrics.

Champion, dubbed the “Mississippi Blues Man,” also said it was important for him to spend some of his time on tour teaching young kids about the blues – a genre of music which he said spawned most of what kids are listening to today.

“I don’t care if you listen to rap, hip hop, whatever, it all comes from the blues,” he said. “When you’re talking about history … you’re teaching them how we got to rock and roll, and how we got to rap. It had to evolve into that because that’s the way that it got to what we’re listening to today.

“It surprises me a lot today, when they’re talking about Beyonce and she listened to a lot of blues growing up, from her dad and her mom.”

Champion and his band played a short set for the kids, showing them the wide range of music the blues have to offer, from a cover of the well-known song “Sweet Home Chicago” to another cover of a classic blues song, “I Got My Mojo Working,” an upbeat, fast paced tune about a woman who simply has no interest in the singer.

Champion also played some songs from his new album.

“We play some music. A lot of time I’ll show them stuff on the harmonica and things like that, just to give them a feel of the music,” Champion said. “I try to get involved with the kids because exposing kids to this type of music is very important. It’s just such positive music…

“I think once they hear what’s going on with it, it’s ‘Oh, I done heard that on another song before.’ They might not have it called it blues, but it’s where it derived from.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.