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They'll Miss Me When I'm Gone: A Symposium on the Blues

Project Overview

A symposium featuring scholars, student discussions and live performances around the themes of history, rights and blues music. 

Identifying the Problem

How can we understand blues music as a form of protest during the Long Civil Rights Movement?  How can we use culture and folklore to teach history, particularly history of slavery and Jim Crow? How did bluesmen confront discrimination and minority rights violations abroad in relation to their own experiences in the Jim Crow South?  

Anna’s undergraduate thesis examined protest, patriotism and civil rights through World War II-era blues music. Her thesis was heavily inspired by the comparative and transnational discourse of her Humanity in Action Fellowship, and she had the full idea for a blues symposium after hearing about the themes of Humanity in Action’s 2012 New York Conference. Anna decided that she wanted to organize a symposium that would help to answer questions about the interaction between blues, culture, history and the struggle for civil rights. 

Creating A Solution

The first step was reaching out to musicians and scholars to see if they would be willing to participate in the symposium project. After everything was scheduled, much of the work involved publicity and regular meetings with speakers and performers to go over details and answer questions before the event. Anna partnered with NYU Gallatin, WNYU Radio, and the Jalopy Theater and School of Music. The schedule for the event included performances by several blues musicians, as well as a panel discussion that explored the symposium’s themes. Also in attendance at the symposium was a scholar who addressed the event’s themes through the lens of the work of Alan Lomax, a musical archivist. Based on the success of the event, Anna is pursuing other forums through which she can showcase blues as a powerful educational tool. 

Lessons Learned

Anna recognizes that the planning, booking, arranging and filing is all stressful and exhausting work that can prove discouraging when things are not going quite right. Furthermore, when bringing together huge groups of people, there are inevitably conflicts one must resolve, often quickly or with minimal resources. Yet Anna stresses that it is extremely helpful to take a moment to remind yourself of your passion and your goals, which can help get you through the stresses of organizing the event and allow you to more thoroughly enjoy the end result. 


Anna received a grant of $3,000 from NYU Gallatin that covered compensation for the performers and visiting speakers as well as catering and publicity costs. The event was put on in collaboration with the Gallatin Office of Student Life, which provided funding for the additional costs of renting equipment, chairs, and a sound engineer for live performances. The total cost of the event was close to $5,000.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

Poland Poland 2012

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