Yes, friends, there is hope for a culturally literate student population in the US! Even more specific though, there is hope these students who have now been exposed, will possess a basic knowledge of American roots music so they too can “Help Keep The Blues, Roots + Zydeco Alive”! These music genres share a history. They were born (and still thrive) in the American South during times of oppression and of racial inequality. As is the music of New Orleans brass bands. Their music gave them an identity and a sense of pride as they fought for their freedom and equality. Some could argue gospel and jazz from the south share similar historical and cultural similarities.
Drilling it down further of course zydeco is the music of the black and multi racial French speaking Creoles of SW & SoLA. Clifton Chenier played with some of the great black blues artists from the south and his cousin was Lightnin’ Hopkins. He recorded for Specialty Records who also released recordings by John Lee Hooker, Guitar Slim and soul greats Sam Cooke, Little Richard & Lloyd Price. Terrance has also played with some of the great black blues artists living and no longer with us. Gatemouth Brown, Johnny Copeland, Willie Dixon and Albert Collins-legends in American music history. Terrance and his bandmates have and continue to perform at notable blues&roots festivals w/notable blues artists all over the world.
The US State Dept. Susan Cleary, CAO Embassy Kiev did an outstanding job presenting our music as part of their America Days in 2012. We did some edu. outreach at several universities as well on this memorable tour. https://www.flickr.com/photos/usembassykyiv/sets/72157629534871850/
That said, Terrance developed this program in 2000 to tell the story about his music & Creole culture. He was encouraged & mentored by his friend Taj Mahal to develop a collection of music for children, youth and family listeners. It developed organically into something way more than a 15 song CD with narration tracks connecting the music. Since then over 250,000 students, teachers, parents and school administrators have had their own zydeco music experience in a proper theatre- historic and contemporary, school cafetoriums, gyms and even some wonderful older schools with their own seated theatre performance space.
Enter Disney, 2008 when Terrance’s management gets a call from a music supervisor working on their historical “Princess & the Frog” to collaborate with Randy Newman on a Simien inspired song in which Terrance plays accordion, rubboard and triangle iron. His name is also listed in the film credits, he attended the premiere and was seated right behind the leading lady, Anika Noni Rose and her family. The film released right before Christmas 2009 and it was quite historical for Disney as they finally introduced their first black princess! Little girls of color all over the globe finally had a Disney princess created in their image. It was BIG! It still is because as parents we know that they shelf life of these films never expires.
Terrance began performing the song “Gonna Take You There”, from the film during his Creole for Kidz & the History of Zydeco performances. Here is the YouTube clip from the movie. https://youtu.be/kuowWChwOVM. Not only was this the first time Disney ft. a zydeco song, but the main character, Ray the Lovesick Firefly who happened to be Cajun, asked cousin Randy if he was “ready for a lil bayou zydeco”! Boom! All of the sudden we have an educational tool with a Disney film. A tool we have seen to be effective at introducing our student audiences to the music culture of Louisiana. You see, this film is set in New Orleans. Of course the love story is the central theme, but it also centers on Princess Tiana, an aspiring chef who wants to open and own her own restaurant with her family gumbo recipe! Female empowerment and accomplishments was a really important thread throughout the film as well! It relies heavily on New Orleans jazz as the soundtrack, but there is also New Orleans gospel music ft. in the film. Of course it also weaves in zydeco, the bayou and some colorful Cajun characters! It even throws in New Orleans voodoo folklore.
We have discovered that 1000’s of the students we reach annually with this program have been introduced to zydeco for the very first time with this film! True story. Then Terrance & the Zydeco Experience appear on a stage in their town, city or rural community and all of the sudden we have connected the dots. At every Creole for Kidz! performance Terrance gets a show of hands from the students who have seen this Disney film. He then goes on to ask if they recall the song “Gonna Take You There”. He tells them the story about the song and how he worked on with the great Randy Newman. They oooo and then ahhh. Again, their minds start imagining, traveling and piecing it together. WTGeaux Disney and big thanks for this amazing gift you gave our music and state!
2015 marks our 15th anniversary of Creole for Kidz & the History of Zydeco educational performing arts concerts. They are referred to as school time performances, visiting/teaching artists series, educational outreach and performing arts-in-education. You name it, we’ve done it from dirt floor schools in the bush of Mali west Africa to the most grand international performance theatre’s in more than 25 countries around the globe to 100’s of our own beautiful performing art centers and schools/colleges right here in the US! Including Berklee College of Music Boston for their American Roots and African Studies departments.
The performing arts profession has long understood the need to “build audience” for the next generation of performing arts patron who will support their programming. We guess that maybe 50% of the performing art centers we work with even have a dedicated education department. This has become a very important piece of our touring and now our mission as performing artists, and teaching artists!
On March 9, 2015, early in the morning we loaded into Ashe County High School. These school time performances require an early curtain call, which is ok by us! On this occasion we reached almost 1000 9-12th grade high schoolers with this program in two performances. An 8:30 and a 10:30. Young children never fail to respond-they’re like little sponges-so eager to learn and love you back. However we all know about teenagers because we have or had them ourselves and we were also once one teenagers. They can be one of the tougher audiences to engage and get to participate. However, we are here to tell you that these teens, these smart, attentive and respectful young adult students inspired us in so many wonderful ways today!
Many thanks to Ashe County Arts Council for having a fruitful relationship with their schools and allowing us into your outstanding facility to share our music and culture! We applaud you all as well as principal Jason Krider for setting the bar so high for his students! Well done y’all! Check out a brief video clip here. IMG_5056