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Blues, the powerful music created by 20th century African Americans to survive oppressive poverty, has influenced people all over the world. Could this power be recaptured to help rebuild torn urban communities today? Illinois Entertainer columnist Rosalind Cummings-Yates poses this question. 

In her article, we hear guitarist Jon McDonald calling for more music education rather than the cutbacks imposed by city school systems. McDonald also calls on fellow blues musicians to get involved in urban communities: “I’d rather have a guitar in my hand than a gun. I made that choice at a very young age. You make choices in life, but people need to understand that with what’s going on, a lot of kids don’t have a choice because it was taken away from them.”

McDonald played guitar as a guest with singer Larry Taylor and the Joe B band in a summer concert at the BBF social service agency on the West Side of Chicago.  The song Taylor sings in this video, the ZZ Hill hit “Shade Tree Mechanic,” shows how blues can help fix things with rhythm and a smile:  Taped July 27 at a program for BBF, one of the West Side’s oldest social service agencies.

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Bonni McKeown

"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years.  She has led classes for young and old on...