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On Saturday, April 20, families joined musician and storyteller Cooper-Moore for a tour of the Blues for Smoke exhibition and an interactive workshop in the Whitney Studio. Cooper-Moore began his career as a musician at the age of eight, playing piano in churches in Virginia where he was born and raised. He first came to New York City in the summer of 1966 and several years later moved to Canal Street. In the galleries, Cooper-Moore shared his first-hand experience of the New York jazz scene, taking families on a musical journey of rhythm and personal history, and bringing the exhibition to life through song and anecdotes.
To help families understand blues music as more than just a genre, Cooper-Moore described the structure of the blues like a house, and the feeling of the blues as the everyday life of the people inside the house—the meals they eat, the colors they paint their walls, the emotions they experience, and the way they treat each other. Martin Wong’s painting, La Vida, (1988) resonated with Cooper-Moore because he lived in a similar tenement building when he first arrived in New York. He told families about tenants sleeping on the roof and fire escapes, and people playing music everywhere.
Cooper-Moore further explained the structure of blues music, helping families distinguish between traditional European compositions such as a waltz, and the different beats and rhythms that Africans brought to America. To demonstrate the difference between the structure of blues music and the emotion, he first asked a parent in the group to move his feet to the beats, and then a second time to dance it with more oomph and feeling.
Cooper-Moore is known for designing and building his own instruments, and in the Whitney Studio he taught families how to construct horns made out of drinking straws, paper, tape, and Dixie cups. Families were soon performing their hand-made instruments around the Studio! During the program, Cooper-Moore provided families with a multi-dimensional understanding of blues music and the unique experience of seeing the Blues for Smoke exhibition through the eyes of a musician.
Jamie Rosenfeld, Education Assistant