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"Shhh!" turns to cheers as Monroe libraries become underground blues joints for Black History Month

Courtesy of Monroe County Library System
Ann Rabson has a ball with a late great, Uncle Jessie White


Each February, the libraries in Monroe undergo a transformation. The Black History Month Blues Festival turns these sedate study spaces into concert spaces full of “laughing, singing, clapping,” and “stomping,” said Bill Reiser, the library manager at Ellis Library in Monroe.

This year, he’s helping set up the 30th annual festival, which will feature a “greatest hits” of artists who have visited Monroe over the past three decades.

According to Reiser, the idea of this majority-white Michigan town hosting a major blues event took a while to sink in. But the event really took off when Willie Dixon, legendary blues musician, came to Monroe in 1990. In addition to his performance, Dixon gave a powerful speech in which he declared that “blues are the roots of all American music.”

Credit Courtesy of Monroe County Library System/Ed Richter
"Big Gig" performance in Monroe

Reiser agrees: it’s why the Monroe Library series also includes blues-influenced rock-and-roll and other genres, drawing a large and diverse audience.

For Reiser, these lively musical events are an ideal fit for the library’s Black History Month programming. It’s a “sneaky” way to get people interested in the subject, he said. It’s a chance for different people to come together in an environment where the “only common denominator is the music,” he said. “It’s about inclusion.”

Hear more about the famous blues musicians who have journeyed to Monroe over the last 30 years, and listen to clips from past performances, above.

And for more about the blues series, check out the website here.

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