MVBS presents its last Blues in the Schools artist-in-residence for the 2012-2013 school year, Gary Allegretto, the week of April 22 to 26. The founding director of Harmonikids (a humanitarian organization that gives music therapy with harmonicas to special needs kids worldwide), and recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive Award in Education, Gary will be teaching harmonica classes in area schools. He will also present two open-to-the-public performances:
- Tuesday April 23, 7:00 p.m.—Moline Public Library, 3210 41st Street, Moline IL
- Friday April 26, 9:00 p.m.—The Muddy Waters, 1708 State Street, Bettendorf IA
Gary Allegretto’s resume reads like a men's adventure wish-list: back-country forest ranger, forest firefighter on a "Hotshot" crew, LA city firefighter, bouncer in a couple rough honky-tonks and a blues bar, cowboy and ranch hand, beach lifeguard, white-water rafting guide, and traveling bluesman. He's a summa cum laude college graduate of Northern Arizona University, and the recipient of multiple awards for his outreach to children. He started playing upon receiving his first harmonica at age 5 from his woodsman grandfather. Soon after, while attending a cultural festival, he carelessly wandered away from his family following an irresistible sound: a Big Walter Horton performance. As the loudspeakers blared something about a lost child, he knew he’d found his calling.
In 1985, while voluntarily performing blues concerts for children in the playroom of the Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital in New York City, Gary noticed how the kids were irresistibly drawn to his harmonica. Shortly thereafter he founded Harmonikids, his non-proﬁt organization aimed to provide harmonica music therapy to special needs kids, and he incorporated his endorsement by Hohner to acquire harmonicas at an affordable price. Further, Gary developed a one-of-a-kind teaching method designed to ﬁrst captivate kids’ fascination with a blues performance and then teach them to play in minutes.
Gary has provided aid to special needs children from the earthquake devastated Port Au Prince, Haiti, to the tsunami refugee camps of North Sumatra, Indonesia to the Katrina evacuee trailer villages of Louisiana and many points in between. To date, Gary’s humanitarian programs have served to keep the blues alive by using it to touch and make a difference in over 20,000 young lives around the globe. Indeed, it is his passion and purpose—he receives no salary or monetary compensation for his work. He has channeled the therapeutic healing power of music to kids with physical and/or emotional challenges ranging from traumatic stress, to learning disabilities, to abuse or abandonment, to health problems as grave as terminal illness. Gary’s programs have reached facilities like children’s hospitals, Ronald McDonald Houses, burn recovery centers, juvenile detention homes, orphanages, and evacuee facilities such as a FEMA trailer village and refugee camps and beyond.
Recently Gary was chosen unanimously to be the first harmonica instructor at the Pinetop Perkins Foundation's Master Class 2012. Acclaimed for his versatile technique, he has taught thousands of kids worldwide to both learn about and actually play songs on the harmonica with lightning speed, elevating not only their knowledge but also confidence and self-esteem. Gary's Blues in The Schools program has been featured by many blues societies internationally and was hosted by the Blues Foundation in Memphis area schools as part of the 2008 and 2010 International Blues Challenges.
Gary’s considerable merits as a blues artist lend even more credibility to his assets as a blues educator. He is self-taught, having learned from countless hours of spinning vinyl blues LP’s of the masters from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Eager to share what he had learned with an audience, he hit his ﬁrst stage at age 15.
Gary says, “In my teens I had the unmatched thrill of witnessing the legendary Delta-born bluesman Muddy Waters perform with his legendary band. The experience changed my life and shaped my musical direction. I worked hard and imagined myself playing harp with them someday. Many years down the road, my dream was realized when I found myself performing on stages with two of these bluesmen—Bob Margolin and Pinetop Perkins (whom I also recorded with).” On his CD Many Shades of Blue, Gary was joined by friends including Ivan Neville, Janiva Magness, and Doug Macleod. The CD also features duets of Gary with his dear now-departed friend, the National Heritage Award winning bluesman John Cephas.
Gary has also recorded with others, notably 2005 Grammy Life-time Achievement Award winner and blues legend Pinetop Perkins on Rich Del Grosso's Blues Music Award nominated CD release. At the conclusion of their CD release performance, Pinetop gave Gary the ultimate personal endorsement, exclaiming that he "can really blow that harp!” And then as he left the stage he turned and deliberately pointed directly to Gary, saying "You keep the business going."
In Gary's words, "This was from an idol of mine, a legendary man who played with Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, and many other legends of the blues. My heart stopped and I just said...'yes sir', realizing that this was not just another reason to keep playing the music I love and continue the work of Keeping the Blues Alive—this was direct orders from the last of the great Mississippi Bluesmen.”
The MVBS Blues in the Schools program is made possible by a generous grant from the Riverboat Development Authority. We also thank our other sponsors the Iowa Arts Council, the Moline Foundation, The Lodge Hotel, Alcoa, and KALA radio.