Jan 14

The Blues and human dignity

Samburu Women, Kenya, 1985 (Gluckstein)Dignity and respect. Self-esteem, “worthy” of being treated well, honoured for contributing fully. How can we convey those things? How can we teach them? Is there an opportunity here for a picture that’s worth a thousand words?

I’ll attempt to walk the class through a visual encounter with dignity, the role of the Blues before and after emancipation, the Robert Johnson “Crossroads” legend … and write some Blues. Musically, we’ll reinforce our counting, continue driving home the 12-bar form, figure out I-IV-V in additional keys. We’ll master some new chords—and write some Blues around the 2+1 structure of a traditional Blues lyric.

I’ll ask what they already know about dignity, and whether the people in photos have it … how do they know?

: Being treated with respect, regardless of the situation, and having a sense of self-esteem e.g., having a sense of self-worth; being accepted as one is, regardless of age, health status, etc.; being appreciated for life accomplishments; being respected for continuing role and contributions to family, friends, community and society; being treated as a worthy human being and a full member of society.

Samburu women 1986
The last image I’ll show is Robert Johnson. What’s he wearing, how’s he sitting, what’s he got to be so proud of? What if the suit, hat, guitar and a few more clothes—enough to fill one suitcase—are all he owns, and he carries it by bus and hitchhiking from town to town along dirt roads?

We’ll stand and do some “dignity awareness studies.” We’ve already beat our chests with the swing video; this will be introduced in similar fashion. These can be posturing and funny at the start (it’s likely somewhat related to rock star posing) but I need to bring back seriousness and wrap it up … ultimately the point is to try to feel increased confidence and self worth associated with feeling dignity and recognizing that of others.

But wait, there’s one more association to make. I’ll promise to tell them the Legend of the Crossroads after a movie clip. We’ll watch the first 3:20 of Does it Swing? An Introduction to Swing Jazz for Young People (Part 1), to where it talks about slavery and the blues. (I’ll stop it before Basin Street Blues which will watch if there’s time at the end, and learn next visit.) We’ll reflect on that briefly and then take out the ukuleles to learn some Robert Johnson tunes.

Robert Johnson and the Crossroads Blues

The learners will…

  • Hear Cross Road Blues [or this one] and the Robert Johnson legend. [Here’s a movie trailer.]
    • Lyrics
    • Who’s Willie Brown?
      [Trigger alert: Willie was lynched by a white mob in the Omaha Race Riots of 1919.]
  • Learn the chords F Bb & C and joining Blues lick (these are the chords for Sweet Home Chicago and Ramblin’ On My Mind) and Eb (for Crossroad Blues and Come On in My Kitchen).
    1. Come On in My Kitchen (Compare with Stones’ You Got To Move)
    2. Sweet Home Chicago
    3. Ramblin’ On My Mind
  • Identify the 2 + 1 pattern of Blues lyric.
  • Perform call and response style imitation and improvisation


Tux Guitar files/chord diagrams, lesson sundries. Bb Blues for ukulele

  • How to set up TuxGuitar as TuxUkulele
    360p Video  or   720p Video
  • Full chart [TuxGuitar] [PDF]
  • Just standard notation [PDF]
  • Just tab [PDF]

For more links and resources please see this concept map

Unit Concept Map

Ontario Curriculum connections, content, rationale, resources
Please see this concept map


DIGNITY for the Seventh Generation Coming

Dana Gluckstein, Photographer & Activist [Museum Collection]
See also: Archbishop Desmond Tutu on “Dignity”

Complete Recordings

Robert Johnson – The King of Delta Blues

    1. Kind Hearted Woman Blues
    2. I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom
    3. Sweet Home Chicago
    4. Ramblin’ On My Mind
    5. When You Got a Good Friend
    6. Come On in My Kitchen Compare: Stones’ You Gotta Move
    7. Terraplane Blues
    8. Phonograph Blues
    9. 32-20 Blues
    10. They’re Red Hot
    11. Dead Shrimp Blues
    12. Cross Road Blues
    13. Walkin’ Blues
    14. Last Fair Deal Gone Down
    15. Preachin’ Blues
    16. If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day
    17. Stones in My Passway
    18. I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man
    19. From Four Till Late
    20. Hellhound on My Trail
    21. Little Queen of Spades
    22. Malted Milk
    23. Drunken Hearted Man
    24. Me and the Devil Blues
    25. Stop Breakin’ Down Blues
    26. Traveling Riverside Blues
    27. Honeymoon Blues
    28. Love In Vain Blues
    29. Kind Hearted Woman Blues
    30. I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom
    31. Sweet Home Chicago
    32. Ramblin’ On My Mind
    33. When You Got a Good Friend
    34. Come On in My Kitchen Compare: Stones’ You Gotta Move
    35. Terraplane Blues
    36. Phonograph Blues
    37. 32-20 Blues
    38. They’re Red Hot
    39. Dead Shrimp Blues
    40. Cross Road Blues
    41. Walkin’ Blues
    42. Last Fair Deal Gone Down
    43. Preachin’ Blues
    44. If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day
    45. Stones in My Passway
    46. I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man
    47. From Four Till Late
    48. Hellhound on My Trail
    49. Little Queen of Spades
    50. Malted Milk
    51. Drunken Hearted Man
    52. Me and the Devil Blues
    53. Stop Breakin’ Down Blues
    54. Traveling Riverside Blues
    55. Honeymoon Blues
    56. Love In Vain Blues
    57. Milkcow’s Calf Blues