About the Film Series The Songs & the Artists Blues Road Trip Blues Classroom Partners & Resources

Project Overview
The Blues, executive produced by filmmaker Martin Scorsese, is a seven-film television series of personal and impressionistic films viewed through the lens of seven world-famous directors who share a passion for the music. The blues is a powerfully influential music genre; an expression of the African-American experience that speaks of universal emotions. Countless of the world's most celebrated artists have credited the blues with influencing their music. In this musical journey, we are able not only to trace the actual journey of the music from Africa, across America, and to Europe, but also trace the effects of the blues on all popular music. It can be argued that no other type of music has had a more everlasting influence on today's artists than the blues. As Willie Dixon so aptly said, "The blues are the roots; everything else is the fruits."

Sponsored by Volkswagen, The Blues project's goals are to celebrate and increase appreciation of blues music; to capture the essence and cultural impact of this genre through stories of artists and their music; and to inspire audiences to explore their own personal relationships with the blues. The Blues is a multi-media presentation from Vulcan Productions and Road Movies in association with Cappa Productions and Jigsaw Productions. The Blues aims to capture the essence of the blues—its emotional resonance—and explore how this music has so deeply influenced people the world over.

The much-anticipated series, premiering Sunday, September 28th from 9-11pm on PBS, and running for seven consecutive nights through October 4th, anchors a multi-media project to help raise awareness of the blues and its contribution to American culture and music worldwide. Its goal is to reach as many people as possible through the following initiatives:

  • a seven-film television series on PBS
  • an extensive Web site at pbs.org/theblues
  • a 13-part radio series on public radio stations nationwide, distributed by Public Radio International
  • a teacher's guide containing blues lesson plans, teaching strategies and resource materials for high school teachers of English, Social Studies and Music
  • a companion book published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins, entitled Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey
  • value-added DVDs, a CD boxed set, individual soundtracks for each show, a single "Best of" album and individual artist recordings released collaboratively by Hip-O Records/Universal Music Enterprises and Columbia/Legacy
  • "On the Road," a national schedule of film, music and heritage events celebrating the blues throughout the year
  • a "Salute to the Blues" benefit concert that took place at Radio City Music Hall on February 7, 2003
  • a film of the "Salute to the Blues" concert for theatrical release directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and executive produced by Martin Scorsese
The Blues—TV Series
Under the guiding hand of Executive Producer Martin Scorsese, The Blues is a seven-part television series of personal and impressionistic films viewed through the lens of seven world famous directors who share a passion for the music. The films, by Charles Burnett, Clint Eastwood, Mike Figgis, Marc Levin, Richard Pearce, Martin Scorsese, and Wim Wenders, capture the essence of blues music and delve into its global influence-from its roots in Africa to its inspirational role in today's music. Four of the seven films are written by Charles Burnett, Robert Gordon, Peter Guralnick, and Wim Wenders. The Blues is a series of impressionistic and iconoclastic films—each director exploring the music through his own personal connections. Simply put, it is the journey from Robert Johnson's Delta blues "Love in Vain," to John Coltrane's transcendental anthem, "A Love Supreme." Driven by the beat of performances by famous players from every kind of music the blues has inspired—hip-hop, rhythm and blues, soul, country and rock and roll—this seven-part series takes us on a journey as soulful and ebullient as the music itself. Martin Scorsese personally introduces each of the seven episodes. Along with Scorsese, Paul G. Allen and Jody Patton of Vulcan Productions and Ulrich Felsberg of Road Movies are executive producing the series; Alex Gibney is the series producer; Margaret Bodde is the producer and Richard Hutton is the co-producer.

The Blues is closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers, and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. The descriptive narration is made possible by a special grant from Volkswagen and is available on the SAP channel of stereo TVs and VCRs.

Feel Like Going Home—Director Martin Scorsese (The Last Waltz, Raging Bull, Gangs of New York) pays homage to the Delta blues. Musician Corey Harris travels through Mississippi and on to West Africa, exploring the roots of the music. The film celebrates the early Delta bluesmen through original performances (including Willie King, Taj Mahal, Otha Turner and Ali Farka Toure) and rare archival footage (featuring Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker).

The Soul of a Man—Director Wim Wenders (Buena Vista Social Club, Wings of Desire, Paris, Texas) explores the lives of his favorite blues artists—Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson and J. B. Lenoir—in a film that is part history and part personal pilgrimage. The film tells the story of these lives in music through a fictional film-within-a-film, rare archival footage, and covers of their songs by contemporary musicians, including Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, Lou Reed, Eagle Eye Cherry, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Cassandra Wilson, Garland Jeffreys, Los Lobos and others.

The Road to Memphis—Director Richard Pearce (The Long Walk Home, Leap of Faith, A Family Thing) traces the musical odyssey of blues legend B.B. King in a film that pays tribute to the city that gave birth to a new style of blues. Pearce's homage to Memphis features original performances by B.B. King, Bobby Rush, Rosco Gordon and Ike Turner, as well as historical footage of Howlin' Wolf and Fats Domino.

Warming by the Devil's Fire—Director Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, My Brother's Wedding, To Sleep with Anger) presents a tale about a young boy's encounter with his family in Mississippi in 1955, and intergenerational tensions between the heavenly strains of gospel and the devilish moans of the blues.

Godfathers and Sons—Director Marc Levin (Slam, Whiteboys, Brooklyn Babylon) travels to Chicago with hip-hop legend Chuck D (of Public Enemy) and Marshall Chess (son of Leonard Chess and heir to the Chess Records legacy) to explore the heyday of Chicago blues as they unite to produce an album that seeks to bring veteran blues players together with contemporary hip-hop musicians. Along with never-before-seen archival footage of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, are original performances by Koko Taylor, Otis Rush, Magic Slim, Ike Turner and Sam Lay.

Red, White & Blues—Director Mike Figgis (Stormy Monday, Leaving Las Vegas, Timecode) joins musicians such as Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Tom Jones performing and talking about the music of the early 60s British invasion that reintroduced the blues sound to America.

Piano Blues—Director—and piano player—Clint Eastwood (Play Misty for Me, Bird, Unforgiven) explores his life-long passion for the piano blues, using a treasure trove of rare historical acts as well as interviews and performances by such living legends as Pinetop Perkins and Jay McShann, as well as Dave Brubeck and Marcia Ball.

Check your TV listings or call your local public television station to confirm broadcast dates and times.

The Blues—The Radio Series
Premiering September 28 on Public Radio International, this 13-part series will be the most comprehensive blues-based radio series ever. Hosted by Grammy-Award winning Keb' Mo', each 60-minute episode will explore a geographical location of importance to the blues, together revealing the history of the blues from its origins to the present, as well as its ongoing legacy as the foundation of American popular music. Interviews with blues artists, historians, and record producers will complement historic blues recordings, while contemporary performances of classic blues songs from current artists will serve notice that the blues is alive and well in 2003. Produced by Experience Music Project and Ben Manilla Productions, and presented by WGBH Radio Boston, this radio series will support The Blues television series and is compatible with The Blues educational components.

The Blues—The Educational Initiative
In order to bring the blues to America's high school students, Experience Music Project and the Blues Foundation, in association with PBS and WGBH, are launching an educational initiative to complement The Blues. Underwritten by Volkswagen, this educational initiative provides blues lesson plans, teaching strategies and resource materials for high school teachers of English, Social Studies and Music.

This is accomplished through the educational expertise of Experience Music Project and the Blues Foundation working with a select group of teachers already skilled in the strategies of teaching the blues to high school students.

The broadcast series-related educational initiatives reach teachers August 2003 and include:

  • Online lesson plans: discography, bibliography, etc.
  • Free teacher's guide, complete with lesson plans, discography, bibliography, blues CD
  • A broad range of lesson plans, teaching strategies and resource materials for the classroom
The Blues—The Companion Book
Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, is publishing a distinctive appreciation of the blues: Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey. This hardcover volume is both a complement to the television series and a stand-alone for the general reader — part history, part celebration — that includes a sweeping historical essay by Robert Santelli, illuminating archival materials from Peter Guralnick; captivating interviews with the series' directors by Christopher Farley; and numerous original "personal essays" from literary and music luminaries like Elmore Leonard, Studs Terkel, Nick Cave, Hilton Als, Luc Sante, and many others.

The Blues—The Music CDs and DVDs/Video
Sony Music's Columbia/Legacy division and Universal Music Enterprises have formed a unique partnership, sharing catalogues and all associated costs, to create a series of CDs and value-added DVDs to complement The Blues. They will produce and distribute in the States and abroad a five-CD box set, a "Best of" CD and up to ten individual soundtrack CDs with tracks selected by the directors to accompany each film. In addition, Sony Music's Columbia/Legacy division and Universal Music Enterprises will produce value-added DVDs — both as a box set featuring all seven films and individual DVDs — that will be available for sale when the series airs in fall 2003.

The Blues—"On the Road"
The Blues project will be where the music is and where lovers of music are. This pioneering multi-media project will express the blues' real essence, taking participants on a geographical and musical journey to explore this global and American art form that has influenced virtually all of today's musical genres.

Volkswagen, the exclusive sponsor of the project, takes The Blues "On the Road" to a national schedule of film, music and heritage events celebrating the blues throughout the year.

Volkswagen hosts highlight screenings at key film festivals and presents sneak previews at major music festivals including New Orleans (sneak preview, April 28th), Beale Sreet in Memphis (May 2-4), the Chicago Blues Festival (May 29 - June 1), Central Park SummerStage (June 14), the Spirit Festival in Kansas City (July 3-5), Bumbershoot Music Festival in Seattle (August 29 - September 1), and the Monterey Jazz Festival (September 19-21). Among the film festivals where The Blues has a presence at this year are Full Frame in North Carolina (April 10-13) and the Toronto International Film Festival (September 4-13). A special compilation screening also took place this winter at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah to kick off The Blues On the Road. Compilation reels are also being made available to other festivals around the country that want to help promote this music and join in the celebration of THE YEAR OF THE BLUES.

Be sure to check with your local newspapers and PBS stations for more information on upcoming events.

The Blues—The Concert and Concert Film
"Salute to the Blues" Concert

A benefit concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York City took place on February 7, 2003 to kick off the year-long campaign. The legendary lineup of more than 50 artists included B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Solomon Burke, Natalie Cole, Shemekia Copeland, Robert Cray, Dr. John, Honeyboy Edwards, The Neville Brothers, Vernon Reid, and Mavis Staples, as well as Aerosmith, Gregg Allman, India.Aire, Chuck D, and many more. A new non-profit organization, the Blues Music Foundation, was created as part of the overall project to guarantee that there is a significant charitable component to the events of the year. The Foundation will distribute net proceeds from the concert to blues-related programs throughout the country. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese and directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), the concert was also filmed for distribution. For more information about the concert visit http://www.radiocity.com.

In recognition of the blues' ongoing impact on music and cultural history, both in America and around the world and in celebration of the 100th anniversary of W.C. Handy's encounter, the United States Congress has proclaimed the year 2003, YEAR OF THE BLUES (YOTB). The year will be celebrated by bringing together blues events, multimedia projects (radio and film series), concerts, festivals and education initiatives. Spearheaded by Seattle-based Experience Music Project (EMP), and the Memphis-based Blues Foundation, the YEAR OF THE BLUES aims to raise awareness of the blues, its unique American stories, and its influence in America and around the world. Volkswagen is the exclusive sponsor of YEAR OF THE BLUES. For more information about YEAR OF THE BLUES, please visit http://www.yearoftheblues.org.

The Blues—"Sweet Home Chicago" Exhibit
Experience Music Project is currently creating a new exhibit dedicated to the history of the blues, slated to run at EMP from Fall 2003 through Spring 2004, after which it will travel to cultural institutions nationwide. The exhibit will focus on the years 1946-1966 in Chicago, a 20-year period that saw a distinctive blues style emerge, evolve, and travel in new forms to urban centers across the country and around the world.




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