Date: November 17, 2012
by: Judy Wiley | Community Impact News | November 15, 2012
It started with four old bluesmen up on the stage one night at the Palace Theater in Grapevine, telling their stories and singing the blues.
They’re all dead and gone now — Robert Lockwood Jr., Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Henry Townsend. But a live recording they made the next night in Dallas won a Grammy in 2008. And the Colleyville nonprofit that pulled those two shows together in 2004 still is carrying out its original mission: to make sure children know all about the blues, an engaging way to teach them also about history.
Today, Michael Dyson is known by his thousands of young fans as Mr. Blue Shoes. With a backward baseball cap, an electric guitar, kid-friendly jokes and, of course, blue shoes, Dyson engages children with music but at the same time teaches them about West African culture; the Great Migration of millions of black Americans out of the South and into the rest of the country; and other history of the early 20th century.
“There are tons of kids out there, you can teach them all day long out of a book, but it takes somebody like a musician coming in and telling the same story with a guitar to get them to learn it,” Dyson said.
He also teaches students about current blues bands and interacts with them. For some, he said, the program is the first chance they’ve ever had to touch an electric guitar.
When his father, Jeffry Dyson, started The Blue Shoe Project with the concert at the Palace, it was aimed at college students. The price of admission to the show was an essay, which made them eligible for a scholarship.
The next night the Dysons produced another show for the general public at the Majestic Theater in Dallas. That one was recorded live and became the album “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen — Live in Dallas.” Four years later, it won the Grammy award for best traditional blues album.
“This was four bluesmen who essentially never got any recognition, or not to the level they should have,” he said. “There were only two left living. It was a perfect ending to that chapter.”
The father and son continued to produce concerts that helped pay for education programs they put on at elementary, middle and high schools for several years, but high costs forced them to search for other ways to carry out their mission. Mr. Blue Shoes was born.
The program has been in more than 500 schools and reached some 131,000 children since it started, said Dyson, including about 85 who were in the nonprofit Community Storehouse’s summer Reading Improvement and Cultural Arts program at Westlake Academy this year.
The Storehouse, which serves at-risk families in the Keller and Northwest school districts, uses the Academy’s building and equipment for the three-week program every year. Westlake Academy students serve as mentors and youth volunteers.
“They will never forget it,” said Sharon Boyd, grant writer at Community Storehouse, who is a former educator. “He related to the children on their level. He included movement in the whole process. They will always know the basics about the history of jazz.”
Dyson said his goal is to someday find someone to carry on the work.
“We’re crafting the program so eventually somebody else can step into the shoes,” he said. “We want one of these kids to step up and become Mr. Blue Shoes, so the whole embodiment of what we’re trying to do can live on.”
“Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen” was recorded live during a concert in Dallas produced by The Blue Shoe Project.The artists and their contemporaries in the 1950s played music that became the root of both jazz and rock ‘n’ roll.
Robert Lockwood Jr., guitarist, died in 2006.
Joe Willie “Piinetop” Perkins, piano player, died in 2011.
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, guitarist, singer, died in 2011.
Henry Townsend, guitarist, died in 2006.
The Blue Shoe Project is starting its next round of programs in schools in February.
The show is one hour long.
It covers a 400-year span of history and includes interactive experiences and live music.
Educators who want to know more can visit www.mrblueshoes.com, a site set up to supply more details about how the program is presented at schools.