Noted bluesmen raise funds for Gidden's School

On April 25 the Gidden's School weekly Tuesday student sing-along saw a very special guest hearken their doors. Internationally recognized musician Eric Bibb. The quiet spoken master of the blues came for the third time to join the lucky elementary school students in their sing-along lead by fun-loving music director Kent Stevenson.
To add to the flavor, long time Columbia City resident and well-noted harmonica player Grant Dermody jumped in, and together they gave the parents and students a taste of what was in store for them that evening at Town Hall.

Fundraisers have become a mandatory element in school funding, whether public or private, and the money raised generally goes towards sustaining music and the arts - the first thing usually cut from struggling budgets. Eric Bibb graciously consented to giving a hand.


Bibb, who currently lives in England, has long been involved with schools, notwithstanding his busy life touring, performing and recording. He finds the positive energy and unadulterated freshness of children's approach to music invigorating and restorative: they are open to Bibb's underlying message of peace and social justice. On a bigger scale, while living in Stockholm, Sweden, Bibb along with students, of whom many had parents and grandparents fighting in Iraq, wrote and recorded an entire musical called Symphony of Peace. It was later performed for Nelson Mandela, Nobel Prize winner Klerk and the Swedish Parliament.

The urge to stand up and be heard stems directly back to Bibb's childhood during the Vietnam War era. His New York home was filled with musicians, artists and political activists during the early 60s. His father, Leon Bibb, was a professional musical and theater singer. His uncle, John Lewis, was a famous jazz pianist and composer, and the singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson, is his godfather and has been influential in Bibb's outlook on life.

It was during his teens that Bibb met Sheba Burney-Jones, (now a Gidden's School parent) and together formed a peace group. As young idealists they expounded their political opinions and distributing anti-war flyers along the beaches of Cape Cod.

Thirty-five years later their paths crossed once more through Seattle's Jack Straw Productions while Bibb was recording in Seattle. Seizing the opportunity, Burney-Jones boldly asked if Bibb would visit her daughter's school. This has since blossomed into a regular event bringing them to their most ambitious project yet - a full-fledged benefit concert as a fundraiser.


The well-respected Kent Stevenson opened the sing-along with his joyous blues piano style and his infectious singing, all the while with a smile firmly fixed on his face. The students enthusiastically sang along.

"When you see Kent with his students, they're not intimidated," Bibb said. "They talk but they love him because they know his songs and they are not easy songs. They are ambitious. He is with them - not singing at them."

Bibb soon grabbed his guitar, Grant Demody his harmonica, and before long we were witnessing an honest jam session between three remarkable musicians who had never played the blues standard Woke up this Morning together before. The basic tenants of blues gave them a structure and the kids just joined in for a truly pleasurable experience.

Demody and Bibb have only recently become collaborators, but they enjoy a compatible philosophy of life and music. While only having had a couple of gigs together, their styles are well suited and the pair has already recorded together.

"[It's] all about communication and connection - that's the musical journey," said Demody.

He then explained the role of the harmonica player.

"Solo harmonica only goes so far," Demody asserted. "[Bibb] doesn't need me to sound good - he sounds good by himself. My job is to elevate and push just a little bit, but in a way that does not call undue attention to me but adds to what he does."

Demody is modest. His harmonica adds a whole new dimension as easily demonstrated on his recent album, Deceiving Blues.

Seattle will hopefully see more of Bibb, Demody and Stevenson, and perhaps more musicians will follow their lead and lend their talent to supporting our schools and raise the ever so needed funds. With approximately 450 tickets sold at $20 a pop for Bibb's Town Hall concert, everyone wins!

Mount Baker photographer and writer Jacqui James may be reached via[[In-content Ad]]