Harmonikids HOHNER-Sponsored Session in the Mississippi Delta

Bob Margolin and Gary Allegretto on stage at Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, MS

Sunflower Landing, Substance Abuse Treatment Center for Youth

Sometimes my Harmonikids sessions have particularly deep-rooted personal meaning. Such is the case for my visit to Sunflower Landing, in Dublin, MS. So much of the music and musicians that made the Blues the most popular and beloved music ever to be played on the harmonica came from rural towns in the Mississippi Delta. Howling Wolf, James Cotton, and Sonny Boy Williamson are just a few of the great Blues harpmen to come directly from the area. In my teens I had the unsurpassed thrill of witnessing the legendary Clarksdale, Mississippi-born Bluesman Muddy Waters perform with his band that included the legendary Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton, and Bob Margolin. The experience changed my life and shaped my musical direction. I imagined myself playing with them someday. Many years down the road, my dream was realized when I found myself performing on stages with two of these Bluesmen - Bob Margolin and Pinetop Perkins (who I also recorded with). In fact, several years ago in an unforgettable moment of my life, Pinetop told me to "keep the business going". This was not just another reason to take my work of "Keeping the Blues Alive" seriously - but direct orders from one of the last great Mississippi Bluesmen himself. I simply replied "yes sir." This year in the second week of June, I had the opportunity to directly honor this promise when I was invited to be the first harmonica instructor to teach at the Pinetop Perkins Foundation Masterclass in Clarksdale. Suitably, foundation board member Bob Margolin was the guitar instructor.

To further my commitment, and in tribute to the legacy of the great Blues harpmen of this hallowed ground, it seemed fitting to provide a special Blues Harmonikids session to benefit youth in the vicinity who are facing special challenges in their lives. I researched the possibilities and contacted Sunflower Landing, an innovative, home-like long-term residential treatment facility for adolescents with substance abuse and related problems in nearby rural Dublin, Mississippi. Notably, Sunflower Landing is located directly on US Route 49, the notorious highway travelled by the famous Delta Blues legends and the subject of many songs of the genre. To make the session extra special I invited Clay Swafford, friend and fellow instructor at the Pinetop Perkins Masterclass. Clay is a renowned Blues pianist who also has worked with greats Bob Margolin, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Carey Bell, and others.

As anticipated, the 90 minute session was a resounding success. The 30 young participants enthusiastically cheered and applauded to a captivating performance as Clay and I played Blues songs and explained their deep roots and significance to their homeland. They were delightfully astonished with the gift of shiny new Hohner Bluesband harmonicas. Closely following my instruction and the music sheets I provided, the youth beamed with pride as they quickly and accurately learned four Blues songs on their instruments. Confidence and self-esteem soared.

The joy both during and following the session was palpable and as we left the sound of harmonicas filled the thick Delta air. Perhaps the lasting benefits of Hohner and Harmonikids gift to these troubled adolescents is best described in house-parent Clif Ray's heartfelt note of thanks (below) received the following week. To me, the harmonicas were like seeds of joy and hope newly planted in the fertile Mississippi Delta. My wish is that the the healing power of the Blues played on them will grow and bring the promise of possibilities and dreams to some of these challenged youth - and perhaps make a positive difference in their lives as it has in mine and so many others.

~ Gary Allegretto, Founding Director of Harmonikids, www.harmonikids.org


Dear Harmonikids and Hohner,

I work weekends at Sunflower Landing, a drug and alcohol treatment center for adolescents. Thank you for donating harmonicas and providing a Harmonikids session to our facility. This past weekend Gary came and played for us and taught us all how to play a harmonica, which was a great honor for us all. We had one client just brighten up after Gary’s sessions and musical gifts. This was very special for me to witness, as this kid comes from a broken home where drugs was his only outlet. Now to see him so excited and to play a harmonica for the first time warmed my heart in a way never before felt. We had another client that has played musical instruments but never a harmonica that has now seemed to find his calling - he’s a natural. All the kids were happy, focused, and entirely interested in the endless possibilities that a harmonica could bring them. Music has opened their hearts to a brighter more pleasant side of life. It’s a goal of mine to help these kids to see a better way of life, and Gary has done so with his gift of music and just a wonderful human being, not to mention an awesome gift of a harmonica that you gave each of us. Gary brightened all of our lives with music, I am very thankful to have met him. I pray God blesses him in everything that he does, he uses his gifts more than for a living, but gives to those in need - and that my friends is amazing.

Thank you,    

Cliff Ray

House Parent
Sunflower Landing, Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center
3000 Highway 49 South
Dublin, MS 38739