Blues in the Schools

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As T.J.Wheeler said to us, "You sing the blues so you don't got the blues no more!"

 Our school participated in the Blues in the Schools (B.I.T.S.) Project in Ottawa.

The project began with performances by:

Monday - Suzie Vinnick & Tony D

Tuesday - Ken Hamm

Wednesday - Derek Debeer

Thursday - T.J. Wheeler

Mar. 26 -29th my Core Group of students worked with:

Derek Debeer, and Steve Ridgley and Trevor Finlay

We created a performance for Bluesfest 2001. It was fun seeing our murals around the venue, as well as being on stage with musicians.

Some of our photos from the events. Maria Hawkins report of B.I.T.S. 2000. She helped coordinate the events.


Curriculum Resources: L.A./Visual Arts/Music/History/Geography


The Ontario Ministry of Education elementary curriculum writing expectations.

We typed up words to the three songs we performed.

Here is a writing activity for a critical musical review. [Adapted from a few sources.]

My evaluation strategy, including a musical performance review.

Visual Arts

My grade 4/5/6 students have been drawing: Nat's tree , Becky's tree, pictures that illustrate the roots of blues music. Some of the grade 7's created a mural of the artists!

Many students have been helping us to create murals for Bluesfest 2001! It was posted at the Bluesfest site. It was quite an endeavour to paint them, house them and put varathane on it -to preserve it for outdoor display purposes in July. We sketched and painted one which illustrates the Roots of Blues music and another which highlights some of the guests to our school!

Students integrated the video of our final presentation/performance, with and introduction, interviews, credits and supporting materials. They created a wonderful artifact which records our work over the months. Students were eager to be interviewed. When I was home sick with a cold, the students carried on without me and produced a terrific video. I would e-mail the leader, "Red", and she would lead her grade 7 peers and let the supply teacher know what was up for the day. The video production has been assessed on their participation.


Grade Level music expectations. Grade 7/8 expectations for our final performance. [ Critical Review of a performance.]

Here are the words to the three songs we sang. We liked listening to the sorrow songs, slave songs and gospel songs.

The Blues has its roots in African rhythmns. The white owners realized that slaves worked better if they were allowed to sing. And sing they did. They brought an oral musical tradition which developed field singing into spirituals and code songs (Follow the Drinking Gourd or the Big Dipper ) that led slaves to freedom. Blues music arose from sorrow songs, or field songs, whhich required no instruments. They would sing their song, sometimes called Reals, too. Eventually, since slaves were not allowed to read and write, indeed there were fines for doing so, folks created songs such as "Follow the Drinking Gourd", to tell illiterate slaves where to go and how to navigate. The song "Wade in the water" told slaves how to escape the dogs who were used to hunt them down. Barbershop quartets were formed by blacks working in the shops, whites didn't work in them then. Musicians decided to follow the SATB format (sopranao, alto, tenor, bass) and it was something not done before. Powerful music that led to gospel music, too.

Listening/Art skills: listen to the Blues and draw what it is *you* feel. Is it blue? T.J. Wheeler tells me you listen to or sing the Blues so you won't have the blues any more!


Unfortunately, the ancient Catholic church’s philosophy was upheld in the slavery movement in the U.S., since slaves who could read could navigate their way to freedom. Literate slaves could use various means to figure out how to get away from their slave owners. Literate slaves could communicate with members of the Underground Railroad. Many of the most famous influencers in the anti-slavery movement taught slaves to read so that they might be free. While documents show that a low percentage of slaves escaped using the organized network, there were many Christians, Quakers and abolitionists who supported the fleeing slaves. One historian says that of 300 first-hand jounrals or letter he read, only 15 mentioned the Underground Railway. Possibly, they might have been afraid to write of those who helped.

Identify the roots of Blues music and research the instrument: African drumming, gourds, talking drums, thumb pianos, diddley bows. Ever heard of Bo Diddley?! I was intrigued with drumming that my birthday present was a djembe. I took lessons with the Ottawa Folklore center. Kathy Armstrong is an Ottawa drummer and I took a workshop with her, too!

We have examined the contributions Canadians made to ending slavery. Ministry expectations for Grade 8 include identifying migration patterns into Canada.

Identify Canada/US trading patterns. Our trading partner to the south. offers a wonderful video/DVD, which provides a terrific background to slavery, the history of the settlement of Canada and the Underground Railroad. "Freedom's Land- Canada and the Underground Railroad".

Black History

Famous writer, slaves and former slaves...from the list of famous slaves: slavery was not just peculiar to North America, nor the 1800's. Slavery has been documented since the 1500s and well before humanly documented history.

Here are some other sites I've found useful: Slave Trade Slave Ships

The Underground Railroad. History of slavery and the freedom train, Harriet Tubman.


Trace the movement of former slaves from the south, to Canada. A map of Northeastern U.S freedom routes.

Other References:

Lesson plans published by a school in New York. It includes teacher's guides to several related resources.

A map of Harriet Tubman's route. 

1. Smucker, B. (1977) Underground to Canada, Irwin Publ.: Toronto

Excerpt, found in: In Context: Anthology One, Nelson Canada, 1998, p. 96-104: Canada {See the Teacher's Guide for follow-up activities.}

2. McKissack & McKissak, (1992) Sojourner Truth, Ain't I a Woman?, Scholastic books: NY

3. Merritt, S., (1993) Harriet Tubman Davis: they called her Moses, Her Story, Women From Canada's Past, p. 72 -81, Vanwell Publ. Publ. Ltd.:St. Catherines, Ontario

4. Ringold, F., (1992) Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad, Crown Publishers: NY {Picture book: suitable for pr./jr.}

5. publishes a DD/video call Freedom's Land. It focuses on Henry Bibb and includes many news clips about Canada and the underground railroad.

6. People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music. by Robert Darden

If you have any comments, ideas, suggestions: Jennifer Jilks.

 Last update: Jan. 29, 2006.