University of Rochester

EVENT: Course and Show Spotlight "The Devil's Music"

April 9, 2001

What does respected blues legend and Rochester resident Joe Beard have in common with The Tales of Arabian Nights?

They're both covered in courses taught at the University of Rochester by Daniel Beaumont. But while the associate professor relies on books to teach his classes in Arabic language and literature, he'll have the real thing for his course on "The Blues."

Beard, who recently returned from a two-week tour in India, will talk, sing, and play for Beaumont's class on Monday, April 23. He'll also perform the same day with his band, Blues Union, beginning at 4 p.m. in the Hirst Lounge of Wilson Commons on the River Campus in a show that's free and open to the public.

Beard's performance on the River Campus also marks a return of sorts: the guitarist teamed up with delta blues icon Son House to play for Rochester students in 1968.

Beaumont's course, which he's teaching for the first time, is a departure from his regular fare in the religion and classics department. His 32 students are studying the blues from its origins and earliest recordings through contemporary artists like B.B. King and Muddy Waters. They're also examining the social conditions in which the music developed and analyzing its impact on American culture, including the development of rock 'n' roll. The course is also offered through the Frederick Douglass Institute of African and African-American Studies.

"The blues grew up in the context of black Southern culture, where the major institution was the Baptist church," notes Beaumont. "There always was a tension between African-American religion and this music, which was viewed as 'the devil's music.' Some people kept their foot in both camps-Son House also was a preacher-but there are still people who are religious who refuse to listen to the blues."

A fan of the blues since his teen years, Beaumont began listening to Beard after he came to teach at the University. Last fall he invited the musician to come to his class this semester to talk about his life, the blues artists he's worked with, his recordings, and his views on the relationship between the blues and African-American religion. At that time they also began working on a documentary about Beard and his music and the musicians he's known, chief among them Son House.

Born in Mississippi in 1938, Beard lived among blues musicians but was a latecomer to performing himself. He married at 18, moved to Rochester in the mid-1950s, and worked first in a factory and then as an electrician to support his wife and four children. Beard's first appearance on stage was in Chicago in 1962, and he soon became a regular in Rochester clubs. Beard also lived next door on Greig Street to Son House and spent hours jamming with his neighbor.

Beard has shared the stage with other blues stars like John Ellison, John Mooney, Junior Wells, and Buddy Guy. He toured Europe in 1983, visiting Spain, Belgium, Norway, and Paris. In Paris, he did some studio work on a Buster Benton album and played with Memphis Slim and Lafayette Leake. In 1988, he performed for President George Bush's Inaugural Ball. Beard has recorded six CDs.

For more information on Beard's performance at the University of Rochester, call (716) 275-5911.