NEW PORT RICHEY — “We can do good. We can make the world a better place. And we can do it with something as ephemeral as music in the air” were the words of blues musician and historian Scott Ainslie, printed on flyers at his only Florida stop here during his summer schedule.
At the Center for the Arts at River Ridge, the atmosphere in the auditorium where Ainslie performed matched his message well.
About 60 people crowded in the front rows for a close encounter with Ainslie and his multimedia message, “The Land Where the Blues Began.”
He played old blues tunes on an antique guitar from the early 1930s and spoke about the lives of African Americans who lived in the southern part of the United States before the civil rights movement.
He coupled tragic accounts of racial oppression, struggles for upward societal mobility and the brutality that drove most African Americans out of the Mississippi Delta after World War I.
Ainslie utilized one of the oldest methods of storytelling used by people who are oppressed in any society: rhythm, long, smooth notes and voices carrying culturally significant messages.
According to his website, Ainslie is “on the road 140 to 160 days a year, performs and presents workshops in schools, libraries, community arts venues, colleges and festivals. He is also a respected instructor at music programs across the country.”
His work includes teaching concerts on the African roots of American music using live performances of blues, work songs, gospel, jazz, and rhythm and blues to illustrate the historical and musical connections between African and American cultures.
After a typical performance, an English professor told Scott that he “does what Shakespeare recommends — you teach by delight.”
For $10, the local audience was both entertained and educated in this manner. The proceeds for the event went to the Center for the Arts at River Ridge.
“I feel like our history has been kept from us,” Ainslie responded to a question at his Pasco appearance. “I was taught none of this when I was in school. It’s all post-college education and reading.
“A great blessing in my life has been to become friends with African-American men and a few women who were born between 1900 and 1950 ... and you know I learned something about being a kind and good human being from them, but I also had a peek at some of the horrors” they experienced.
As the event began to wrap up, one River Ridge high school student described the show as fantastic. “I actually work here,” she said, “so I got to talk to Scott while he was setting up. He knows so much and has some really cool life philosophies.”
Others guests of the event agreed, calling it “really good,” “very educational” and “awesome.”
Ainslie’s final slide held the words, “We are all standing on the shoulders of giants. Dedicated with my thanks to those musicians and historians who have gone before.”