St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Ferguson received a $2,500 grant from the Missouri Humanities Council to support its Strings Attached project. The project connects youth, ages 5 to 17, with music education using American roots music. They learn to play instruments such as guitar, ukulele, dobro, banjitar and mandolin
It all goes back to Ray Charles.
Project founder Steve Housewright, a St. Louis native, began working in an after-school program in Los Angeles in 1999, as Terry Perkins reported for The Beacon. This was a program sponsored by Ray Charles called the Sir Charles Blues Lab. When Housewright moved back to the St. Louis area, he founded a similar program in 2009 at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church with the support of Father Steve Lawler, who had started community outreach programs under the umbrella name “The Vine.” They started with guitars, hence the name “Strings Attached."
The program offers free lessons by Housewright, as well as loaner guitars for students. Those young people who stick with the program, attend regularly, practice hard and participate in community concerts then become eligible to be awarded a guitar of their own.
In addition to building his students' musical skills, Housewright has a strong focus on providing a sense of St. Louis' musical history and tradition to the young people in the program. He has created videos that showcase the music of St. Louis musical legends ranging from Scott Joplin and John Hartford to Chuck Berry.
"It's really important to try and reconnect these kids to a sense of the rich musical traditions that are such an important part of our culture," Housewright told The Beacon. "It's all about helping them realize the importance of American roots music, everything from blues and ragtime and jazz to country, folk, bluegrass and gospel. That's where contemporary music comes from, and its connections and traditions need to be communicated."
Housewright challenges his students to perform concerts and even make recordings, with the assistance of more seasoned musicians, in what he calls “intergenerational recordings.” That also goes back to Ray Charles.
"When I was with the King Charles Blues Lab in L.A., Ray Charles would make sure all the kids in the program had the opportunity to go into a recording studio for a day,” Housewright told The Beacon. “It turned out to be a very valuable learning experience for them, even if they didn't continue as musicians. It showed them there were other aspects on the music industry that were open to them and also gave them insight into the recording process."
Strings Attached serves over 200 Ferguson and St. Louis youth with non-profit music education classes in guitar and ukulele. Grant funds provided by the Missouri Humanities Council will help the project purchase audio visual equipment and supply youth and their families with music books for use in classes. It will also help create a unique storybook library for project families on the lives of influential musicians such Duke Ellington, Ellla Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Django Reinhardt and many others.
For more information about Strings Attached, visit www.stringsattached.info
For more information about the grants program of the Missouri Humanities Council, call 314-781-9660 or 800-357-0909 or write to the Missouri Humanities Council,543 Hanley Industrial Court, Suite 205, St. Louis, Missouri 63144-1905.
Souls to the polls
The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis is leading the Souls to the Polls “get out the vote” effort for the U.S. presidential election. It is seeking transportation partners to assist in taking voters to the polls on Tuesday, November 8, when Missouri voters will elect the U.S. president, a U.S. senator, as well as Missouri governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state. There are also key ballot issues, including Amendment 6, which would impose voter Photo ID requirement. To volunteer or for more information, call Darryl Jones at the Urban League, 314-615-3618.