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Clarksdale Blues Kids Win Big
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First Lady Michelle Obama with one of the band from Clarksdale
Teresa Collier

The White House honored the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale for having one of the best youth programs in the country.  Young musicians from the program were in Washington yesterday to accept the award from First Lady Michelle Obama and to show off some of what they’ve  been learning.   

Five members of the Delta Blues Museum Band rocked the East Room of the White House Monday afternoon. They were the featured performers at the National Arts and Humanities Youth program award ceremony.

First Lady Michelle Obama recognized 12 after school programs around the country for helping to change the lives of young people - from a Shakespeare group in Chicago to a ballet ensemble in Memphis.   She issued a challenge to the students at the ceremony. “I want you to remember this one thing, if nothing else from this day," Mrs. Obama said. "That your education is critical.  That’s why I’m standing here. That’s why most of the people in this room are here. Don’t play around with it. It’s the best investment that you’ll make. You guys promise me that, okay?”

The Delta Blues Museum Arts and Education program is helping to keep the blues heritage alive in the Mississippi Delta by teaching the next generation how to sing and play the blues. 15-year-old Cristone “Kingfish” Ingram has been in the program since he was 7 and now has his own band.  He walked across the stage to accept the Museum’s award and a hug from the First Lady. “I was mesmerized and I didn’t know what to do, because the hug was like awesome.   That’s the best thing that happened to me today," Ingram said.

The Museum‘s lead instructor John Walter Busby also appeared overwhelmed by the honor. “I’m shaking.  I feel great.  I’m so very honored.  I’m so proud of these kids.  It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had and I really hope they are feeling this right now too”

In addition to being recognized by the White House, each of the 12 winning programs will receive a 10 thousand dollar grant.  The Museum’s Executive Director Shelly Ritter says she has an idea of what to do with the money. “I hope we will do a 3rd CD of the Students.  We’ve done volume 1 and volume 2 from Clarksdale to Kansas City. A CD is such a great way to expose them to other aspects of the music industry and publishing. And what it takes to put an album together.”

The Delta Blues Museum Band was the grand finale of the awards ceremony. 15 year old Kalil Dan Ford was overcome with excitement after playing on the White House stage. “It was exhilarating and my mouth is extremely dry. This means it was extremely stressful. We absolutely blew it out of the water, we absolutely killed it.”

The band received a standing ovation and high praise from the First Lady.

Mrs. Obama said, “Wow, you guys are awesome .  We need to have you guys backs when we  do our music series on the blues. That was the best way to end right there.”

The First Lady pointed out that many kids don’t have access to programs like the Delta Blues Museum’s.  She hopes the youth award will shine a spot light on the need for arts education across the country.