Music and the Arts: A Privilege For a Lifetime

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Something that truly bothers me is when someone believes they have no musical talent or that they used to play as a youngster but gave it up. This is sad because everyone can play music. After all, everyone has music pounding away inside of them in the form of a rhythmically beating heart. That is a solid start and a firm foundation upon which to build. It’s a great reason for people who have never played an instrument, or who, played as a youngster but stopped, to start or restart, playing.  

“Why not?” I suggest. “Fifteen minutes a day and before you know it, you find yourself improving.”

It also bothers me when people say they are too old to begin to learn to play music. 

“What do you mean, too old? You can play music until your last day on this earth.  So why not?” You will be able to enjoy it for a long time.”

It’s also absolutely irrelevant how you “stack up” against other musicians. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is whether you enjoy it.

I’ve always wanted to draw and paint but never made a real effort to learn how. So heeding my own advice, I began taking drawing and painting lessons.

It has been wonderful! Not only has it been loads of fun, but I have learned so much about the creative arts and lifelong learning. I also find myself looking at everything, from flowers, to food, to landscapes and faces, differently – considering colors, composition and perspective and wondering how to go about painting them.

Taking up painting has also reaffirmed that, like music, where you can interpret songs any way you please, in art, it’s okay to “color outside the lines”. That is the greatest lesson of the arts: that you can color outside the lines without penalty. It’s a safe place to test boundaries and explore the unconventional. The fact is, creativity can be taught and learned. But first, it has to be encouraged. The arts are a potent vehicle to encourage such creative, bold and fearless thinking. Mistakes can be embraced, modified and turned into something positive.  For example, as a stream of paint slithered down my canvas, where I saw a “mistake”, my instructor saw an “opportunity”. “Don’t worry about it”, she said, “Embrace it, own it, work off it and use it to your advantage.”

It’s also confirmed my belief that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your art as long as you derive pleasure from it. That requires the boldness and courage to put yourself “out there”. I agreed to be a part of an “emerging artists” exhibit, where my work will be shown in a public gallery. This prompted a friend to ask, “How can you do that? You’ve only been painting for a few months?”    

But why not? Who’s to judge whether your art or music is any better or worse than anyone else’s? As long as you enjoy the process, what does it matter?

But the greatest lesson I have learned and come to appreciate is that, like music, painting or drawing or being involved in other creative arts such as theater, is that these are things that you can do for the rest of your life.

The creative arts provide the opportunity and indeed, privilege, of being able to participate, learn from and enjoy it forever. You never have to “retire” from the arts. Unlike other activities, such as sports or sometimes, your career, the decision to “retire” is often not left to you.

I love the game of basketball and after my competitive career ended continued to play pick up games until age fifty. It was a very sad day to arrive at the inevitable conclusion that my body would simply no longer allow me to continue to play. “Retirement” from the creative arts is optional.  You can do it whenever you want and on your own terms. 

And, like a fine wine, you get better at the creative arts the older and more experience you get. Experience builds confidence and courage to continue to challenge yourself to create and put yourself “out there”. It keeps you vibrant and engaged.

One of the most fundamental responsibilities of our schools and education system is to instill in students a love of, curiosity for and mindset to embrace lifelong learning. That is why it is so important that our schools and communities invest in music and the arts.  But it’s just as important to provide exposure to activities that can be practiced for a lifetime. And the institution through which we as a society can provide such opportunities and privilege is through our educational system

Being exposed to and participating in the arts is vitally important as a vehicle to teach creativity, build confidence and instill characteristics such as discipline and personal responsibility. And as such, everyone can and should enjoy that opportunity and privilege…for a lifetime.

Music’s Next Frontier: Healing

One of the fundamental responsibilities of an executive director of a music related non-profit (MusicForEveryone.net) is advocacy regarding the value and impact of music in our schools and communities. As I was a novice in this regard when Music For Everyone was founded in 2006, my learning curve has been steep. And the learning continues to this day.

As a lifelong musician, I certainly experienced and understand the impact of music had on my life. Playing music brings tremendous joy to my life and feds my soul. As Plato wrote, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” Music’s value in this regard is very powerful and it rests at the core of the justification of investment in the arts “for arts sake”.

Being that MFE was created to raise money to provide instruments and support to school music programs, it became clear fairly quickly that simply using this “arts for arts sake” as a central narrative to convince people to open their hearts, minds and wallets to MFE’s cause was simply not enough. While musicians “get it”, it is hard to explain to people who don’t. Thus, a wider and more thorough narrative was necessary. That being the case, I immersed myself in the research regarding music’s educational and character development benefits. That was low hanging fruit as there is an enormous amount of evidence of music’s positive impact in these areas. From improved academic skills, test scores and student “engagement” in school to teaching lessons in teamwork, discipline, communication skills and personal responsibility, it’s benefits are very clear. Music is math, music is reading, music is logic, music is language and music requires discipline. And driving all of that is its potential to teach and nurture creativity.

The more I researched and witnessed those impacts through MFE, it became apparent there were other benefits. The most obvious was music’s power and potential to create and build community. Music is the universal language and thus, it’s potential to serve as a bridge of understanding to build community and connections between cultures, races and generations is unparalleled. Music’s power in this regard was made clear to me when MFE created a program that places between 12 and 20 fully designed and painted pianos throughout the streets of Lancaster with 24/7 access for the public for four months in the summer.  “Keys for the City”, which will celebrate its tenth year in Summer 2019, has provided a platform for literally tens of thousands of magical musical moments around those pianos where people of all ages, races, backgrounds and beliefs come together to share and experience the community building power of music.  Keys is now an important part of the fabric of the Lancaster community and a source of great community pride.

But Keys also opened my eyes to another important benefit and impact of music – economic development. This aspect of music’s benefit as a community investment was not something I had given much, if any, consideration to until we witnessed the community impact of Keys. For the past two decades, Lancaster City has had as a major component of its economic development plan, a commitment to the arts. And the city has been wildly successful in leveraging the arts to build a vibrant, thriving and dynamic economy, making it a “hot” arts community and tourist destination. Keys for the City has contributed to this community-wide success.

But music is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to developing narratives about its positive impact. While I was beginning to feel comfortable and competent in my ability to articulate a broad, cogent narrative regarding the value and impact of music in our schools and communities, I was missing what is fast becoming the next frontier in music’s ability to positively impact our populace and society.  

Specifically, it is becoming increasingly clear that the next big frontier in advocating effectively for societal investment in music is in the area of music for healing. There is an increasing amount of research, writing, experimentation and application of music as a broad healing tool. In one sense, music’s potential and power to uplift and inspire as well as to calm and sooth has existed for as long as it has been played. But in another sense, it’s full power as a healing tool seems to finally be beginning to be fully embraced by a wide array of medical and health practitioners. It is being used for everything from managing pain and addiction, to treating dementia, depression, anxiety to improving motor coordination in people suffering from cerebral palsy. And scientists, researchers and medical practitioners are discovering and developing additional ways to utilize music for healing virtually every day.

Following are several quotes relating to music’s power and potential to heal.

“Music might provide an alternative entry point to the brain, because it can unlock so many different doors into an injured or ill brain. Pitch, harmony, melody, rhythm and emotion — all components of music — engage different regions of the brain. And many of those same regions are also important in speech, movement and social interaction. If a disease or trauma has disabled a brain region needed for such functions, music can sometimes get in through a back door and coax them out by another route.” Harvard University neurologist, Dr. Gottfired Schlaug.

“The power of music to integrate and cure is quite fundamental.  It is the profoundest non-chemical medication.”
— Neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks

“Half an hour of music produces the same effect as ten milligrams of valium.”   -- Dr. Raymond Bahr

And leave it to musician Bob Marley to bring it all together with one of his simple, straightforward universal truths, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

Music for healing. It’s the next big frontier. And music advocates would be well served to begin to include this benefit, along with music’s educational, character development, community building and economic impact benefits in their advocacy efforts.  

Tiny Tim: An American Musical Visionary 

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If you are over 50, you surely remember him. How could you not? Certainly you remember his signature song: “Tip Toe Through the Tulips”.

Yes, we’re talking about Tiny Tim, that tall, long, stringy haired, goofy looking dude playing the ukulele and singing in that quivering, falsetto voice.  He was silly, campy and probably did more for ensuring that the ukulele would become one of the more derided instruments of the past half-century. 

But what goes ‘round, comes ‘round because the ukulele is back! And it’s hot! Ukulele music festivals are popping up all over the country.  Even Eddie Vedder recorded an entire album of ukulele songs and won a Grammy for it. Over 1.7 million ukes were sold in 2017, up from 500,000 in 2009.  

 Tiny Tim, as it turns out, was an American musical visionary.

The ukulele originated in Europe and was introduced to Hawaii in 1879 when a Portuguese immigrant named Joao Fernandez jumped off a boat and started singing and strumming his Branguinha. Legend has it that the Hawaiians were so impressed with his playing that they called the instrument “ukulele” which translates to “jumping flea.” The instrument quickly captured the imagination of the islands to where the reigning monarch Kalakaua learned how to play it. By the 1920’s Sears Roebuck catalogues offered ukes for a couple of dollars. Big name performers such as Bing Crosby, Betty Grable and Elvis Pressley incorporated the uke into their acts. 

But by the 1950’s rock-n-roll was sweeping the country and the tinny, toy-like uke was swamped by kids who fell in love with the electric guitar. 

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Tiny Tim, however, kept playing it, appearing on television shows like Ed Sullivan. But the image of Tiny Tim and the toy-like ukulele was no match for the electric guitar driven act like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones and Chuck Berry.  

Beginning in the 1980’s some rock stars such as Paul McCartney began to play it. McCartney was influenced by George Harrison who was a devotee of the instrument. And slowly, the ukulele began to make a comeback, despite the fact the most common image of the instrument was still associated with Tiny Tim.  For a wonderful account of the uke’s history and evolution, (and the main source of the research for this paper), check out “The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Ukulele” by Marion Jacobson in January 24, 2015 edition of The Atlantic

Clearly, there is a major ukulele uprising taking place in the US, not only as evidenced by the exploding sales numbers, but I have been exposed to the rise (again) of the uke through my work with Music For Everyone. Other than my memories of Tiny Tim, I had no idea of the resurgence of the uke until a few years ago when we began receiving requests from schools to provide them with the instruments to start school based uke programs. MFE, through its annual instrument grant program, has been awarding grants to schools in Lancaster County, PA since 2007. 

Over the first six years of the grant program, we did not receive one request from a school to provide them with a batch of ukes. But in 2012 we began to notice the beginning of a trend, where we would receive at least two and sometimes three requests from schools to provide them with 20 – 25 ukuleles to start a program. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical but in conversations with teachers it became quite clear that the ukulele may very well be the introductory instrument of the future for young children. The more I found out about it and began to experiment with one myself, it became very apparent. 

First, it is small for small hands. Kids have trouble with larger instruments like a full sized guitar, saxophone or viola. Many instruments are simply too big and bulky for young children. Second is that you can begin playing songs on a uke almost immediately as there are only four strings and you can form and play many chords by playing (fingering) only one string.  The faster you can get children to feel that they are producing real music not only by themselves, but to be able to play music with other players, the better. The more excited they will get about playing music.  The uke is excellent for achieve that goal. 

Don’t believe me? Think back to those recorders or the screeching sounds that a beginner saxophonist or violinist produce when learning the instrument. Immediate, positive gratification and connection to the instrument, the music and fellow players is key in sparking a child’s interest in continuing to play music. This is why teachers love them as an introductory instrument. 

And they are inexpensive. While you can spend over $500 for a high-end model a decent uke for beginners costs around $100. Other than a choral group or a percussion ensemble, the cost of providing 20 – 25 instruments to start a full string program or brass ensemble is prohibitive, particularly in these days of tightening budgets for music and art programs. 

And not only are we receiving requests from schools for ukes, we are also beginning to receive them from community recreation programs and senior centers to start groups for senior. To get a sense of their potential impact on seniors, check out this recently released Music For Everyone video: 

https://youtu.be/9eVUrChexLI

The segment on our Ukulele Uprising begins at the 1.50 mark. 

Finally, there is the sheer fun of it as Jake Shimabukuro explains, “There’s something about the ukulele that just makes you smile. It makes you let your guard down. It brings out the child in all of us.” 

And in these times, we can all benefit from embracing our inner child. 

So, long live the uke!  The instrument of the future. And, as we all tip toe through the tulips, we should pay our respects to Tiny Tim, an American Musical Visionary. 

A Stage Name? Why Not Dance a Bit More?

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I gently kicked the vintage, boxy suitcase that was on the floor between me and a group of 15 second graders. The suitcase literally vibrated with all types of rattling, clanging and ringing sounds.

“You want to see what’s in there?”, I asked.

They erupted, “Yes!”

I opened the suitcase to reveal more than 20 percussion instruments of various sizes, makes, functions and models. In a frenzy, they began to reach for them.

“Woah! Wait a second”, I instructed. “If you want to play one of those, you have to do something first.”

“What?”, they asked in unison.

“You need to think up a stage name. This is a music class and one of the best things about playing music is that you can make up a new name for yourself. You can have your regular name and you can have your music name. I have one”, I revealed. “My real name is John. But when I play music, I’m Willie Marble. It’s cool to have a stage name. It’s lots of fun.”

One of the best things about teaching second graders is that they believe just about anything you tell them. And they are game to try just about anything.

Some may consider it a bit silly or foolish for a 60 year-old man to have a make believe name and persona. But there is a long history of musicians with stage names. Muddy Waters’ real name was McKinley Morganfield. Howlin’ Wolf’s was Chester Burnett. And that’s simply a start. Jay Z’s real name is Shawn Carter, Stephanie Germanotta is Lady Gaga and Dana Owens’s stage name is Queen Latifah.

Not to be outdone, the names these kids came up with were priceless: Lion Slayer, Crazy Bone, Lightning Bolt, Jeffrey McMoe, Funky Nose, Princess Cotton Candy, Howlin’ Hound Dog and Ruby Jewels to name only a few. And stage names are for adults as well. The three background singers in my current band each has a stage name, Queen Victoria, Honey Bee and Jackie Thunder. Together they comprise the “World Famous Marblettes”.

Having a second name and identity allows a certain amount of freedom to step outside yourself. For performers, that can be an advantage. One of the most important characteristics of music and art is that it allows for the individual to “color outside the lines” without being unduly penalized or chastised. It allows you the extra space to stretch your imagination, vision and sense of self. A stage name and alternative persona allows you to be a bit silly, act a bit foolish and stretch and test the boundaries of creativity. That’s one of the reasons why music is the most effective tool in our educational arsenal to teach out-of-the-box, creative thinking.

And while that is all great and valuable, the fact is, it’s also just plain fun. And if you can’t have fun playing music, what’s the point? As Margaret Renkl recently wrote in the NY Times, “A person who is not afraid of looking like a fool gets to do a lot more dancing”.

Having a stage name and alternative identity can be lots of fun. Although, as a general rule, if you begin to assume four or five alter egos or identities, you might want to seek some professional help.

But one or two? Why not take the opportunity to dance a bit more?

Guns for Teachers? How About More Violins for Students?

Originally published in Lancaster Online on May 25th, 2018


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As I walked home from the March for our Lives rally for gun control and school safety in Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Binns Park, being one of millions of participants in the estimated 800 events worldwide, I couldn’t help but think, “Maybe…possibly…this time will be different.”
The typical reaction to school shootings has been a burst of public outrage, prayers for the victims and their families, calls for change, pushback from the NRA and then soon forgotten as the next big news story emerges.

But this feels different.

It is being lead by young people with their boundless energy, pure ideals and the fact that they know how to effectively leverage social media. And not only have they not been bought off by the NRA, many of the young leaders of the March for Our Lives movement have stared the realities of school gun violence right in the face as they have witnessed first hand, their classmates being gunned down in cold blood by weapons of war. Theirs is a generation where, since the Columbine massacre in 1999, 187,000 students have experienced a shooting on their campus (Timothy Egan, New York Times, March 31, 2018).

That’s a very powerful combination.

If this time is truly different, it’s about time. Kids don’t feel safe in their schools and the rest of us don’t feel safe in our communities.

And if this time is truly different, lawmakers and community leaders will begin to allocate resources to address not only gun control generally, but also school safety, which is the focus of this essay.

If this time is truly different, school boards and community leaders will face some very important decisions regarding how to efficiently and effectively allocate those resources to make our schools safer. And the fundamental challenge is how to strategically “harden” the outside perimeter of our schools?

To date, the dialogue surrounding this challenge has fallen into three categories.
First, arm teachers. This however, is not a credible solution as the vast majority of teachers oppose it. My sister has been a second grade teacher for 35 years. While I love her dearly, if I was the parent of one of her students’, I’d be terrified of arming her. The fact is, more guns in the classroom will result in more accidental firings and deaths.

Second, hiring, arming and training additional security guards. And, finally, “hardening” the school perimeter with more checkpoints, barriers, metal detectors, video cameras and additional safety features.

While it can be argued that the second and third measures can make schools “safer”, the larger question is whether they will make them “better”. There is no denying that a consequential byproduct of hardening school perimeters will be that their look, feel and operations will become significantly more “militarized”.

While the point is not to downplay the need to harden school perimeters, there is another part of an intelligent, strategic and sensible approach to this problem that should also be considered. What will be the impact of children being forced to learn in a more militarized environment? And what can be done to mitigate those impacts?

Effective learning is greatly impacted by the environment and school atmosphere within which teaching and learning take place. That environment must be welcoming, nurturing and joyous. Those are not terms typically associated with armed guards, checkpoints, barriers and video cameras. If we are going to “harden” our school perimeters, we have a responsibility to our children to make sure we correspondingly invest in things that will “soften” the inside of schools. We must strategically consider appropriate measures to counterbalance that increased militarization by making the learning environment within schools more nurturing and joyous.
Fortunately, we know the types of educational activities and programs that make school learning environments more welcoming, nurturing, joyous and therapeutic: music and the arts. Not only do children learn better, but teachers enjoy teaching more when surrounded by beauty, creativity and joy. Research tells us that music and the arts create a more nurturing, joyous and therapeutic learning environment.

Stated more directly, rather than placing a gun in the hands of my sister, why not place more instruments in the hands of her students?

If our schools are going to become increasingly “hardened” and “militarized” on the outside, it is important that once within that militarized perimeter, the halls and classrooms within the school are joyous places where the thoughts of fear of violence or school shootings are relegated to the back of students’ minds. In such a “locked down” environment, the arts, more than any other educational tool at our disposal, can do that.

A result of these marches will likely be that lawmakers and school leaders will find money to add security personnel and safety measures that will result in a more “militaristic, locked down” school environment. At the same time, history tells us that they won’t hesitate, if money needs to be found in existing budgets to fund new programs or when programs need to be reduced or cut in a budget crunch, funding for activities such as music, theater and the arts often suffer.

Even without taking into account the need for additional security, it is educationally sound to invest in the arts as they are essential to providing an education worthy of the 21st Century.
Due to their universal nature and clear educational benefits, music and the arts are not simply an extra-curricular or co-curricular activity but can, if used strategically and effectively serve as the “glue” that holds together the entire core curriculum. For example, music is math. Music is reading. Music is language. And music is logic. As a result, music in some form can be incorporated into virtually any subject matter or academic curriculum to enhance learning and understanding thus leading to powerful learning opportunities across disciplines.

Additionally, we must instill in students the ability to navigate our increasingly multicultural, complex and integrated world. Music, as the universal language, clearly has the capacity to reach across cultural boundaries like no other activity. Another subject that must be considered a core aspect of a 21st century education is creativity. The ability to think outside the box to address increasingly complex issues and challenges and to make new and different connections that lead to exciting discoveries and knowledge will be one of, if not the most important characteristic that students must possess to be successful in a globalized world. Music is our most effective educational tool to encourage and develop creativity. Music and the arts are also therapeutic, providing young people who feel alienated, isolated and confused within the traditional educational setting opportunities to “find themselves”. The arts offer activities and a community that makes them feel they belong as opposed to feeling like an outcast. One of the most valuable characteristics of the arts is that they are inclusive, forgiving and nurturing. It’s a place of belonging. There is tremendous value in that. I‘m no social scientist, but my guess is that many of the school shooters feel they are ostracized and outcasts.

Enhancing school safety in an age of easy access to deadly firearms in a pervasive gun culture is a complicated issue. Simply increasing investment in music and the arts in our schools will certainly not solve the problem. That said, neither will a collective knee-jerk reaction to simply further militarize schools.

If this time is truly different, significant resources to enhance school safety will very likely be coming down the pike. That being the case, it is critical that school and community leaders allocate those resources wisely. Rather than simply adding more armed guards, check points and metal detectors and then wiping our hands clean and stating our mission of making our schools “safer” accomplished, we must think outside the box to make our schools not simply safer, but better.

Life Lessons From the Blues: CeDell Davis

It’s not often that an obituary sticks in your head for more than a week, let alone six months.

I can’t get the life story of CeDell Davis out of my head. Davis was a Delta bluesman from Arkansas who used a knife for a guitar slide to create a sound, described by New York Times  music critic Robert Palmer, as “a guitar style that is utterly unique, in or out of the blues.”

He passed away on September 27, 2017 at age 91. It always saddens me to hear of the passing of a Delta blues musician as it represents another lost link to the soul of America. Not only does it represent a lost link to an original American art form, but in the case of CeDell Davis, a loss of a living example of the fundamental American ideal that if you work hard and persevere, despite facing many obstacles, you can make a life for yourself and add to the wonderful cultural mosaic of our society. 

Davis was one of those many blues musicians who, for many years, toiled in relative obscurity. According to Jon Pareles’ obituary in the NY Times (Oct. 12, 2017), Davis performed around the South in juke joints and house parties before a broader audience got a chance to hear his electrified rural blues in the 1980’s.

That sounds like a fairly standard story for Delta bluesmen of that era. But as I read about the life he lead, my jaw dropped. While there are all types of colorful stories recalled when remembering blues musicians, never had I read a more inspiring story about the human will to persevere in the face of one daunting challenge after another. He was a model in sheer determination in pursuing his passion for music.

If curious, YouTube him. I’d suggest “CeDell Explains Boogie Woogie”. There’s no word to accurately describe how this cat approached, created and performed music. In fact, I went to the dictionary and a book of synonyms to find one. There is no word. You’ve simply got to see and hear him.  
 
Born in Helena Arkansas on June 9, 1926, he learned to play guitar and harmonica at an early age. But at age 10, he contracted polio leaving him with partly paralyzed arms and legs, requiring crutches to walk.  The polio crippled his right (natural) playing hand to the point where he had to turn his guitar around and play left handed. As if that wasn’t hard enough, his left hand, while less crippled, would still not allow him to play chords with his fingers in the traditional way. He improvised and began playing with a knife, sliding it along the strings.

As a teenager, he played street corners and juke joints in and around Helena and began appearing on live blues radio shows on KFFA such as ”King Biscuit Time” with Sonny Boy Williamson and “Bright Star Flour” with Robert Nighthawk.

So there here we was, challenged with the affects of polio, but making the best of it by adjusting his playing technique to where he was making a living as a musician. If the story ended there, it would be a great one.

But the story doesn’t end there. And in a nod to the time-honored lore of Blues history, the next chapter began with a gun being drawn in a nightclub.

(A side note: My personal favorite Blues story of a gun in a nightclub was recounted by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman in their 2004 biography of legendary Bluesman Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett, “Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf.” Wolf’s drummer at the time was Sam Lay, an eccentric sort, who was quite a “ladies man”. Lay always carried a snub nosed .38 pistol in his front pocket as “insurance” in the event that a jealous boyfriend or husband entered the club looking to settle a score with him. The story goes that one night, in the midst of some particularly aggressive drumming, the gun discharged and he shot off his own testicle. Talk about hitting the down beat!)

That gun in that nightclub in East St. Louis in 1957 started a stampede. Davis and Mr. Nighthawk were playing that evening and by the end of the night, Davis had sustained multiple fractures to his legs left him confined to a wheelchair.

But once again, he refused to let that stop him from playing his music. He continued to work the juke joint circuit and eventually was “discovered” by Palmer, who befriended him and championed his music. Shortly thereafter, Davis began working the national and international blues circuit. Mr. Palmer then brought him to the Fat Possum record label where he recorded his 1994 debut album, “Feel Like Doin’ Something Wrong”.

Along the way, musicians such as Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, guitarist Peter Buck from R.E.M and Mike McCready from Pearl Jam became admirers and/or collaborators.

So there you have the makings of a wonderful story of perseverance.

But that’s still not the end of his story.

In 2005, Davis had a stroke, which by most any standard classifies as a major set back.  As a result, he lost the ability to play the guitar. All he had left was the ability to sing. So that’s what he did.

By then, he was living in a nursing home. Apparently, that didn’t slow him down either as he returned to performing in 2009 and released two more albums “Last Man Standing” in 2015 and “Even the Devil Gets the Blues” in 2016.

His story is worth recapping. He was debilitated as a result of polio, confined to a wheelchair as a result of a bar room stampede, unable to play the guitar after suffering a stroke, moved into a nursing home, and with only his voice to draw upon, still found the drive and courage to continue to perform concerts and record albums.

If I ever have to stay in a nursing home, I hope whoever is in the next room is some cat as inspiring as CeDell Davis.

CeDell Davis simply refused to give up. He lived a remarkable life, exhibiting the tremendous power the human will to persevere, to move forward and continue on the road ahead. It also illustrates the power and allure of music. He refused to let difficult circumstances or events keep him from playing his music and moving forward with his life. He not only left us with his music, but he also provided an inspiring life lesson and example of how to persevere in the face of profoundly difficult challenges.

That’s a powerful Life lesson from the Blues.