CHICAGO — The year 2020 has been one of the most difficult in recent memory. It began with the impeachment of the president, continued with the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic collapse and now the social unrest.
But Fernando Jones, a veteran Chicago Blues musician, was not going to let the turmoil stop him from teaching.
“If you are sincere in your mission,” he said. “It has to roll.”
The mission is preserving the history of Chicago’s signature music by passing it on to a new generation.
Jones is the founding director of the Blues Ensemble at Columbia College. Every year for the last two decades, he has welcomed children from across the globe to Chicago for a one-week intensive Blues Camp.
“Blues is an oral tradition,” Jones said. “Therefore much of the blues has not been written down.”
The camp typically provides hands-on instruction, breakout sessions with current artists who donate their time, and an academic component steeped in the history of the genre. Students learn how people migrated from southern states to Chicago, carrying with them the acoustic Delta Blues. The Delta Blues were born in Mississippi and became electrified and amplified in the big city of Chicago. It created the city’s unique sound and formed the foundation of American music — from folk to gospel and ragtime to rap.
But the renowned Blues Camp was almost canceled this year over concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
So Jones decided the take the camp online. This summer 45 students are participating in the camp via Zoom.
“(The Pandemic) can be like, kind of discouraging,” Stacy Norris, 17, said. Norris is a Homewood-Flossmoor high school student who is enrolled in the camp.
“But it’s stuff like this that really cheers me up,” she said.
Jones said he’s helping keep the music alive by bringing it into the present era of a pandemic and a protest movement.
“What better way to help heal and bring people together than through music that reflects the times?” Jones said. “Once something is documented, it can’t be disputed that it didn’t happen.”