There are four primary objectives of the DBEP: instrumentation, performance, personal behavior, and good citizenship.
Each Apprentice will choose one traditional Delta Blues instrument (guitar, bass, keyboards, harmonica, drums or voice), and be given ample opportunity to become proficient on it.
Apprentices will learn to play together in the Delta Blues tradition both as soloists, and in tight cohesive bands. They will learn to be professional musicians on stage and off, because it is part of the tradition--to be professional showmen and women.
It used to be said that you could "know a man in a suit and tie to be either a preacher or a blues musician." In that Delta tradition, apprentices will be asked to dress like a blues musician, particularly for performances.
Apprentices will be expected to be proud of their musical heritage in the blues, and in its roots in the music of Africa. Program musicians naturally carry this self-respect, and naturally it rubs off on their apprentices. This is part of the oral tradition. It is important for children to have positive role models.
The above picture is of Mr. Johnnie, Anthony Sherard, and Big Jack Johnson at Ruleville High School.
The best apprentices have been asked to play at the Sunflower River Blues Festival (Clarksdale), the King Biscuit Festival (Helena, AR), the Pop Staples Homecoming (Drew, MS), and the B.B. King Homecoming (Indianola, MS). They have played at Colleges & Universities throughout the South, at B.B. King's Club in Memphis, D.C.'s Kennedy Center (March 1999), and several clubs in New York City, including The Lone Star Roadhouse (DBEP benefit). Most apprentices learn about the DBEP through word-of-mouth, or after having seen performances by musicians and apprentices.
Graduates of the program (through Johnnie Billington "Mr.Johnnie") like Harvell and Dione Thomas, Arthneice Jones The Gas Man", and Billy Gibbons of the Junkyardmen have gone on to form their own bands, and some are now professional full-time musicians. Other graduates include Howard Stovall, director of the BluesFoundation, and DBEP director, John Ruskey.
The DBEP already has several guitars, and a bass, and a p.a. system (also several keyboards and drums). More instruments are needed to accommodate moreapprentices! Most instruments have been donated, such as those donated by Harmonica manufacturer Hohner, Inc, and the guitars and bass donated by Peavey Electronics, Inc. Eventually the program should have enough instruments for apprentices to take home and practice on. For donations, please contact Director, John Ruskey.