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Lance Dickie / Seattle Times editorial columnist
Washington Blues Society
I first became familiar with blues-gene therapy through the pioneering work of the late Prof. McKinley Morganfield of Rolling Fork University. His legacy continues today in truly admirable efforts to keep the blues alive.
Prof. Morganfield perfected the ability to swap a defective musical gene for a blues gene through mojologous recombination. His acoustical manipulation of the delta genome evolved in later work in Chicago that was truly electric.
But I digress.
Sunday, the Washington Blues Society celebrates the 17th annual Best of Blues Awards. Twenty-four categories of performance and contribution to the state's blues scene will be celebrated at 7 p.m. at Moonraker Bar & Grille, 23803 104th Ave. SE, in Kent. Tickets are $10 for WBS members and $15 for non-members.
Last year's awards ceremony is one of five finalists for best blues event in 2004. The others are Jam for Cans, Mount Baker Blues Festival, Slide Guitar Showcase and the Sunbanks Blues Festival.
A special feature this year are performances by the three groups nominated for Best Blues Bands of 2004: Becki Sue & Her Big Rockin' Daddies!, Blues Alliance and Crossroads Band. Three headliners — and only part of the show.
The BB Awards honor people who've made the blues a musical calling, for many a commitment spanning decades. I am especially fond of awards that recognize work that keeps the blues in front of audiences: best blues event, best blues image and writer, best blues disc jockey and best blues club.
Three nominees for keeping the blues alive topped 26 nominations: Jeff Hayes, Randy Oxford and Marlee Walker. This category might be my favorite because it's a musical buffet of performance, promotion and perseverance.
Hayes does his part behind a set of drums for Becki Sue & Her Rockin' Daddies! His vocal and percussion skills have deep Washington roots with past and present BB Award winners and nominees. He's famous for working to open new places to the blues.
Oxford is also nominated for performer of the year, best blues horn player, best blues recording with the Randy Oxford Band, oh, and lifetime achievement. He's a tireless performer and his booking agency promotes new venues and puts people on stage. That's pushing sainthood.
Walker is Puget Sound's blues muse, with an encyclopedic knowledge she generously shares. Her weekly "Blues To Do Room" airs at 7 p.m. Thursdays on SCAN-TV (cable channels 29 and 77). In mid-May, a new season starts at 8 p.m. She also publishes the Blues To Do Monthly newspaper (and an online version at www.bluestodo.com ).
How do the blues keep from turning into a quaint folk art that sinks beneath the primordial muddy waters? One way is introduce new generations to the music. Here are a couple of innovative efforts.
Kirkland resident Noury Bernard-Hasan had the wonderfully audacious idea to teach an interactive course on the blues. The second of six biweekly sessions, on Chicago blues, is Thursday. Two-hour classes start at 6:30 p.m. at the Kirkland Teen Union Building.
Bernard-Hasan is a Microsoft marketing director who transferred here from England in 1997. His musical credentials are rooted in 30 years of playing guitar.
Twenty-plus years ago he had a band for three years, The Touch, which performed, recorded and had an unhappy end with an unscrupulous manager. Perfect for the blues.
He has honed his skills at the Country Blues Workshop in Port Townsend and dug into the history of the music with travel in the South. Last fall, it all percolated into a desire to share his knowledge and passion.
Sometime soon, the Pacific Northwest Blues in the Schools program is due some BB hardware. Bluesman James "Curley" Cooke is executive director of a smart, well-executed concept that has put blues artists into classrooms since 1998.
This is hands-on training up close between students with minimal skills and patient pros.
Cooke, a founding member of the Steve Miller Band, and half of the local duo Cooke 'n' Green, brings an eclectic background of performing and recording, and teaching English overseas, to this enterprise. Cooke and Paul Green are BB nominees for best traditional blues act.
The 2005 program began at St. George Parish School and Alternative School No. 1: one private, one public, both in Seattle.
Last week, a new month-long session that meets 16 times got under way with maximum-security residents of Echo Glen Children's Center, the juvenile lock-up in Snoqualmie.
This is the seventh year for Blues in the Schools at the center. Sponsors include Lucky Seven Foundation and the Bill Graham Foundation and a donation from Rainier Investment Management.
Cooke admits a couple of standards might pick up a hip-hop groove, but young kids are keeping the blues alive and finding a sense of teamwork and accomplishment.
He and his musicians want to work with inner-city schools in Seattle and Tacoma. Somebody pick up the phone.

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