Performer offers lessons as artist-in-residence at Estacada Junior High School

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Ellen Whyte performs for Sean Tripp's eighth-grade social studies class.A woman, a guitar, one powerful voice.

That would be Ellen Whyte’s introduction of the blues to an Estacada Junior High School eighth-grade social studies class.

Students in Sean Tripp’s class track the blues movement on a map of the United States as Whyte takes them from Charlie Patton to Robert Johnson to Ma Rainey and beyond.

by:  ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Students track blues artists on a map of the United States.Whyte’s descriptions of the music weave in history: the songs take the students back to a history of slavery, the underground railroad, the great migration, sharecropping, economic inequality and the emmergence of rock ‘n’ roll.

“Every song tells a what?” Whyte asks the class.

“STORY,” they call back to her.

Thanks to funding from Estacada Together and grants from the Regional Arts and Culture Council/Work for Art, The Collins Foundation, Estacada Community Foundation, Estacada Area Literary Foundation and the Clackamas County Cultural Coalition (through the Oregon Cultural Trust and managed by the Clackamas County Arts Alliance), Whyte will work with Tripp’s social studies class in February and Zach Davidson’s seventh-grade social studies class in March.

The effort will culminate in each class writing and performing its own blues song, which they will perform during a concert April 9 at the Estacada Auditorium.

“The whole point is they take ownership of their own song,” Whyte said.Whyte and her “Plus-Size Band” will perform at a concert on Saturday, March 8, in the Estacada Auditorium.

The Estacada High School Choir will perform with Whyte on an original song, and the junior high choir will sing a traditional blues song.

Further, Whyte will offer community workshops on blues singing in April and May. Dates and times have not yet been finalized.

The students are engaged during Whyte’s instruction.

The class goes wild when she admits that Eric Clapton is her celebrity crush.

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - An eighth-grader takes in Charlie Patton.Somewhere around Texas blues hero Lightnin’ Hopkins, a student points out that the emotion of the song seems to have changed.

“Traditionally blues is about hardship, depression and sorrow,” Whyte acknowledged.

However, the art form was so popular, that as times got better, Whyte explained, the style incorporated new emotions.

Whyte was animated as she discussed the music.

“I love it. I’m in my element here,” she said of working with the students.

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