Mr. Blue Shoes brings music experience to Longview schools

As part of its mission to educate young people about blues music, the Big Pines Blues Festival brought Mr. Blue Shoes — aka Michael Dyson — on Thursday to three Longview schools.

Mr. Blue Shoes is an interactive live music experience that combines blues music, oral history and life lessons to inspire children about music and learning, according to Dyson's website.

The program covers 400 years of the country's cultural heritage using music, dance and storytelling.

Children at Ware Elementary School in Longview ISD and at Parkway and Birch elementary schools in Pine Tree ISD learned about West African culture, early 20th century history, famous blues musicians, The Great Migration and blues music's influence on American music.This year's Big Pines Blues Festival — formerly called the T-Bone Walker Blues Festival — is set June 2 and 3 at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center.

Mr. Blue Shoes uses the blues to teach history to kids

‘Educators kept telling me this is what they wanted to see.’

The Fitton Center for Creative Arts is one of hundreds of performing arts venues and schools that Michael Dyson (aka “Mr. Blue Shoes”) will perform at this year. Dyson’s performance this weekend will consist of a rollicking ride through history via blues music that schoolchildren find educational, entertaining and unpredictable, all while wearing his characteristic “blue shoes.”

“I have a lot of different tactics,” Dyson said. “If I’m feeling comedic, I’ll start with a joke that I made up, or I’ll warm them up with different blues licks. It’s very improvisational, just like the blues.”

Dyson’s program will begin with the origins of blues music in Africa, and how blacks brought it with them to America during the slavery era and beyond. Dyson often goes on historical tangents, such as mentioning that the first slaves were the gladiators in Rome, or that the music of legendary bluesman, Blind Willie Johnson, wound up on a record that played on the Voyager spacecraft when it was launched in the 1970s.

“I throw in a lot of different lessons, reinforcing the content of the classroom that maybe they weren’t paying attention to the first time around,” he said. “Teachers always comment that I know a little something about everything.”

The journey to becoming Mr. Blue Shoes, a character that Dyson likened to Ronald McDonald, has been a long and unusual one. Ten years ago, Dyson and his father organized a concert by a group of nonagenarian blues legends who’d been performing since the 1930s but received little recognition outside of the blues community. They recorded the show, and the resulting album was called “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen — Live in Dallas.” The album wound up netting Dyson a Grammy at the age of 23.

A short time later, Dyson was accompanying a talented young bluesman to an educational program, and it was suggested that Dyson provide narration and musical back-up.

“You can be a fantastic musician, but if you can’t connect with the kids, they just roll their eyes, which is the equivalent of having beer bottles thrown at you,” he said. “It worked out, and educators kept telling me this is what they wanted to see. (My associate) left to go on the festival circuit, but I wanted to stay with the kids. I’ve been working with kids since high school, and I’m basically a teacher.”

Mr. Blue Shoes appears on ICTN

Recent video of Mr. Blue Shoes appearing on Irving Community Television with Cathy Whiteman. In the video he discusses the blues, the program and his #InstagramGuitar, the world’s first “Social Media Guitar”.

Cathy Whiteman, reporter for ICTN won an award for this interview and news piece. To learn more or to purchase the record visit www.BlueShoeProject.org.