Big Thought Is Bringing the Blues To Dallas Schools

The blues is a musical art form that began with Black communities in the deep south during the late 1800s. Since then, it has become a thriving genre that has influenced everything from jazz and rock and roll, to country, and hip-hop. Preserving and continuing the rich legacy of this important musical genre has been top of mind for Big Thought’s director of out of school programs, James Adams as he’s worked with The Blues Foundation and the Trinity River Blues Society to establish an exciting new program focused on bringing the blues to schools in Dallas ISD.

Adams is spearheading a partnership between Big Thought and The Blues Foundation, an incredible organization that works to champion the genre. The Blues Foundation has already helped to create blues in schools programs all across America, from North Carolina to Alaska. This partnership will see the first blues in schools program in the state of Texas, a state that has played a major role in the history of the genre.

The program, which is slated to begin this spring under the Thriving Minds After School program, will start in a handful of schools before expanding in the coming years. Adams, who is himself a singer and percussionist, is passionate about arts education and exposing students to new genres of music and ways of expressing themselves.

“Blues songs are lyrical, expressing feelings making it a conduit for expressing emotions,” Adams says. “Through the blues, we can explore identity, self-exploration and creativity.” 

The blues is an inherently expressive genre and, as Adams points out, has a direct connection with social-emotional learning, a major focus of Big Thought’s Creator Archetype. One of Big Thought’s main goals for all of the programming it provides is to inspire youth to develop their innate power to create. Their Creator Archetype is an outline of competencies related to creativity that empower students to “create great” both for themselves and the world. 

Music often serves as a safe place for youth to identify, express, and own their feelings, whether they’re creating it or listening to it. Incorporating music education into curriculum gives students the ability to grow in these competencies and develop a sense of creativity and agency to express their emotions and experiences in a meaningful way, rooted in history and culture. 

Not only does teaching students the blues give them an opportunity to express themselves, but it also gives them a fun way to practice other skills, like timing, math and writing. In fact, music education has been shown to help students more easily learn other subjects and has even been tied to higher test scores. It can also create cultural awareness. The blues has its roots firmly in Black culture and teaching kids about it not only gives Black students a connection to their shared heritage, but expands the cultural understanding of non-Black students. 

This won’t be the first time Adams and Big Thought have helped facilitate music education at Dallas ISD schools. They have also worked with the Dallas Symphony and Opera as well as incorporating street and jazz music into programs to help expand students’ musical horizons and connect with as many students as possible. 

In its first year, the program will focus on creating a solid foundation by setting the groundwork for a strong future. By starting in just a few schools, they will be able to focus on quality over quantity. “In 2022, we’re focusing on showing community stakeholders what they can look forward to with the program,” Adams says. Currently, they are seeking out musicians to bring their talents to the program and perform for students in planned assemblies.

With the support of The Blues Foundation, this program has the amazing opportunity to help students be creative and express their emotions, from sorrow to joy.

As this program begins and grows over the years, it’s Big Thought’s hope, and expectation, that students from all over Dallas ISD, and eventually other Texas school districts, Will be exposed to this incredible genre and connect not only with the music, but with themselves. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Blues in Schools programs, visit Blues.org’s website.