Bright Spot: The Denise Lasalle Blues Academy

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — For five decades Denise Lasalle captured audiences with her spicy lyrics and live stage performances.

The blues singer wanted to make sure her music, blues music, would be passed on to younger generations.

Her husband, 40-year-old James Wolfe, says his wife's dying wish was to start a blues academy in Jackson, TN.

"She wanted them to take part in this to know what the blues is all about," Wolfe said. "When she passed on I said, 'We got to get this done."

Thanks to sponsors like the Tennessee Cultural Heritage Association, this summer 10 students are learning blues, gospel and Jazz in a two week blues camp.

"The spirit of Denise is most definitely off in here," Wolfe said.

The curriculum was developed by Howard Rambsy.

The students are learning music history, music business and, of course, they're learning the blues.

"It's been fun, and you put your emotions into the songs. It's some sort of weird feeling, and I like it," student Kase Nichols said.

It's music that was recorded before these musicians were even born, but they're embracing it.

Some of Denise Lasalle's famous friends have visited the camp.

"We had Bobby Rush and Richard Griffin to come in last week, and the kids were ready for them. The things they told them they immediately began to apply it in their playing," Rambsy said.

This week, the campers have been playing the music of Al Green, Aretha Franklin and the queen of the blues.

"When they told me the songs they had in the repotoire and I say they started playing Denise's songs, my eyes got teary. I had to leave the room," Rambsy said.

This year the camp is being hosted at Lane College, but that won't be the case next summer, then it will become something bigger.

Work is going on now to transform this building into the Denise Laselle Blues Academy, the plan is to have it opened by this August.

The academy will offer young musicians year round programming geared toward preserving the blues.

James Wolfe says the academy is his wife's legacy.

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