Justin Merrick, vocal/artistic director at the Stax Music Academy, is listing the performers the students learned about during the Summer Music Experience's "Soul Rockin' Blues" program. There's B.B. King, of course, and Albert King and Little Milton ... and one singer who remains on the tip of Merrick's tongue until Merrick gives the singer a shove by breaking into a bit of impromptu falsetto. Hello, Little Richard!
Merrick's point is that the kids, 25 middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, studied the blues from the starting point and reached all the way into contemporary music. The mornings were devoted to the business side, while the afternoons were dedicated to performing. And all of it leading up to the SMA Summer Soul Tour, which kicks off on Thursday, August 1st, at B.B. King's on Beale Street.
After the B.B. King's gig, they travel to Clarksdale for a concert at Ground Zero and then on to Indianola for a performance at the legendary juke joint Club Ebony, where everyone from Count Basie and Ray Charles to Rufus Thomas and Ike Turner graced the stage. The final stop is New Orleans for a music festival at Tipitina's.
Merrick describes the tour as a "curricularized trip." The students will travel by bus to get the real touring experience. There will be scavenger hunts and other tasks to engage them along the way. There will also be a videographer on hand to document the participants tracing the history of the blues.
According to Merrick, about half the kids were familiar with the blues; for the other half, it was brand-new. But once they were immersed in the program, Merrick says they were fully in.
"I've never seen a group of students so enthralled," Merrick says. "They loved it. They loved it."
Stax Music Academy's Summer Soul Tour concert at B.B. King's, Thursday, August 1st, 7:30-8:30 p.m.