Interview with Angelica, ETM-LA Music Teacher
We spoke with ETM-LA Music Teacher Angelica Rowell about the cultural and historical significance of the Blues, the impact of her Blues lesson on her students, and how the genre inspires her artistry:
Please share the cultural and historical significance of the “Blues”?
The Blues are significant because they are a direct reflection of the hardship that African Americans were going through in the early to mid 20th Century. They evolved from other innately Black art forms such as the Negro Spiritual and Field Hollers, and served as catharsis and cultivated connection and community. The Blues is especially significant because it doesn’t just stay in the music field, but influenced other artistic mediums, especially poetry. In fact, Langston Hughes was majorly influenced by the Blues and wrote many poems in Blues form.
How did your students respond to writing their own Blues? Can you share any impact this lesson had on a student(s)?
My students, across all ages, loved learning about the Blues! The structure of Blues form makes it easy for them to write their own Blues songs, which allows them to explore all the sides of things that may make them sad, angry, or upset. Songs written in class ranged from being upset about not being able to watch YouTube, to activist songs about the anger my students felt when learning about the erasure of Big Mama Thornton due to Elvis’ “cover” of “Hound Dog”. The Blues really serves as the vehicle for kids to dive deep into their imaginations and explore the things that society often tells them to keep hidden.
As an artist, how have the Blues shaped you and/or your artistry?
I’ve always had a deep love for Jazz music, but it wasn’t until my adulthood that I found a love for the Blues. The more I delved into the history of the Blues and discovered all the phenomenal Black women who were the backbones of the genre, the more I became upset that the Blues aren’t taught about much in music curriculum. The history of the Blues and its founding fathers/mothers is deep and rich and complex and beautiful. In regard to my own songwriting, I admire the simple yet poignant nature of the lyrics, and aspire to capture some of that in my own work.