Berklee Bridges The Gap

By Jason  //  Blues, Delta Blues  //  6 Comments

Berklee College of Music Bridges The Gap to The Front Door of the Blues

We’ve all heard of Berklee.  As a matter of fact, it is even mentioned in the recent film “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”, where Nick mentions he is headed to Berklee College of Music in the fall.  The truth of the matter is, Berklee College of Music is not only a phenomenal school with a rich tradition and amazing reputation, it is also a school that recognizes the rich history of music.  Especially the blues.

Three years ago, the fact that Berklee wanted to give back to the blues was more than evident when they hatched a plan to bridge the gap between their campus in Boston, and the cotton field blues playground of Mississippi.  Berklee College of Music, recognized as the world’s largest college of contemporary music, has been in the game for more than 65 years.  The curriculum there has roots deeply planted in blues, country, rock, gospel, folk, and other forms of music.  However, being in Boston, something had to change – the culture of the music needed to somehow get closer to Berklee.  With that, they began a summer scholarship program for students at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, and the Robert Johnson Blues Museum in Crystal Springs.   So far, four recipients have made the trip to Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program.

Travis Calvin Rocks out with Bill Banfield

The bridge saw more traffic in recent months when Steven Johnson, vice president of the Johnson Blues Museum, lectured at Berklee on the legacy of his grandfather, Robert.  Ben Payton (who has been featured on this site), an acoustic blues player from Jackson, then made his Boston debut at a show devoted to American roots music at the Berklee Performance Center.  A mutual educational exchange was born: Berklee students were getting a direct taste of Mississippi legacies and culture, while students from Mississippi experienced Berklee’s world-class professors and curriculum during their summer studies. Sounds like a win-win situation for the blues.

The Berklee Mississippi Music Exchange, as the effort is now known, develops opportunities to exchange music, education and culture between Berklee, the Mississippi Delta and other parts of the state.  It is an amazing step not only in the education of the blues and the culture that surrounds it, but it also helps to keep the blues alive and bring the music to future generations.  I am all for that.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Travis Calvin, who was the first Berklee Mississippi Music Exchange recipient in 2008.  He’s planning on entering the school full time this fall.  Here’s what he had to say.

How long have you been into the blues?  Who is your favorite pre-war bluesman?
Since I was about 8 or 9. David Honeyboy Edwards.
In your experience, how important is the program at Berklee?
This program is awesome and means a great deal to Mississippi. It gives younger musicians who are serious about their talent and craft a chance to learn more about music and their principle instrument.
If you had one thing to tell up and coming musicians, what would it be?
Follow your dreams. Put every ounce you [have] into it. Then, put that same passion and heart into your music and you’ll go far.
What is your instrument of choice?
What is one way you hope to give back to the blues?
After I’m done with school, I plan to come back home, MS, and start a formal music school.
How did you first get into music?
I grew up in a bad neighborhood. My parents were looking for things to keep me busy and positive. So, they signed me and my brother up for music lessons.
Where did you grow up?
Clarksdale, MS.
How long have you played?
11-12 years.
What was it like to be awarded the scholarship?  What was going through your mind?
So many things were running through my mind. I was excited mostly. I was also proud of myself and determined to pursue my music career.
Do you look forward to your time at Berklee?  What do you look forward to the most?
I am too excited about Berklee. The thing I really look forward to doing is developing my skills and definitely networking. I know that this is an once in a lifetime experience.
As you can see, Berklee College of Music is not only providing opportunity for a lot of people, but is also changing the lives of those around them.  With facilities and people like this, the blues is surely to live on forever.
Rock on!
You can visit the Berklee College of Music here. Go ahead – get educated!

6 Comments to “Berklee Bridges The Gap”

  • I`m sorry man but i like to give credit where it is due.

    While I appreciate the things Berklee does for the blues, Boston is no city for the style. If you wanna dedicate yourself to the blues, go to the windy city. PLus, there`s one school that has been doing things for the blues much before Berklee and haven`t recieved any kind of support just because it isn`t as well known as Berklee.

    My school, Columbia College Chicago, is the only music school in the US and the WORLD(!) with a blues college program and classes inserted in its curriculum. With the help of Bluesman Fernando jones, the school is much more into blues than Berklee, that is first and foremost a jazz school. Believe me, i went there and chose Chicago instead, thank god.

    Lots of famous bluesman came to the classes to support the school like Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Fruteland Jackson, etc. Ms Taylor was a full supporter of the program and now one of the scholarships offered by the school was named after Koko. Not only we go to the Mississippi Delta every year (I went there myself in January), play at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis but we also play at the Chicago Blues Fest and every club around town including Buddy Guys Legens which we have a close relationship. Even more, Columbia is WAY cheaper than Berklee and open to everyone

    Fernando Jones, the director of the Blues Ensemble is having a Blues camp open to kids this summer, in July. For more information, visit:


    I thin this was the perfect opportunity to promote this school a little bit more since we`re talking about Blues in schools.

  • Here`s information about the blues camp:


  • Dan,

    I do appreciate you posting. And of course, I respect your opinion on the matter. I will have to look into the Columbia College Chicago, but I know if Berklee’s commitment to music education and their reputation.

    I agree, Boston may not be known as a blues hub – but then, that is the point of the program Berklee has initiated. I do believe, however, that Berklee does offer courses in the blues. In fact, I believe a large part of the curriculum is dedicated to the blues.

    I will have to look more into your school.

    Thanks again for posting!

  • Than you must be talking but another Berklee College of Music in Boston because, being from Brazil, i went there, visited the school, took a look into the program and it is not dedicated to blues at all. Not to the extent that is the Columbia program. Berklee for sure isn`t a blues school, 99% of its curriculum is dedicated to jazz. But this initiative is great because of their reputation. But 5 students? Really? Is that en effort?

    Columbia doesn`t have Berklee budget but Mr Jones brings people to the Mississippi too and just this year there were 25 Columbia College students in the trip, myself included. In July there will be another one but unfortunately I won`t be able to go because i`m going back home for 2 months and come back here to Chicago before classes start next fall. I had a great experience in the Delta and I am friends now with Ryan from Homemade Jamz, great band you advertised here in one of your blues trips. They came to play at my school and i just saw him yesterday at the Chicago Blues Fest. Look into Mr Fernando Jones efforts as a blues teacher. He`s been doing this for a long time before Berklee. We may not have the same reputation and recognition as Berklee does but for sure we are much more dedicated to blues and inserted into the blues community than they are.

    Moreover, Chicago is the blues hub of the world and if you are going to a school for the blues, Columbia is the choice not Berklee. I can speak about this from personal experience. I’ve been to both and Columbia, in my book, is the winner. Just this year i`ve met Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor’s family, Wille Dixon’s wife and friends, went to the Mississippi Delta, Chess Records now the Blues Heaven foundation, etc etc etc etc. The list is too big to mention. All of this because of Mr Jones efforts and good heart. He is a real bluesman who uses his knowledge and caring efforts to elevate the reputation of the blues.

    Anyways, my point here is not to compete but to enlighten and give credit where its due. Any attempt to take Blues seriously and more inserted into schools as jazz is nowadays is valid, in my opinion so kudos to both.

  • Yeah, I’ve heard of the Columbia College Chicago’s ambitious blues program. Very very interesting stuff!!

    Though for either, I’m just happy they’re still getting to the roots of contemporary music — the blues.

    Good article, Jason.

  • Oh yes, for sure. I`m really happy that the blues is becoming a more respected style all over the place and its making its way to be taught as this truly art form it is with its unique approach and feeling. I see a bright future. Just as long as people doesn`t forget where it came from, the struggle, the feeling and emotions, oral history, jamming and having fun, it will live forever. One thing is to be taught at schools and another is to have this human perspective of the style and both need to be working together to make it endure.

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