Hohner-Sponsored Harmonikids Session on the Mississippi Delta


Sometimes my Harmonikids sessions have particularly deep-rooted personal meaning. Such is the case for my return 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." In June I had the opportunity to return and continue my efforts to honor this promise in my third year as the harmonica instructor at the Pinetop Perkins Foundation Masterclass in Clarksdale. Suitably, foundation board member Bob Margolin is the Master Class guitar instructor.

To further my commitment, and in tribute to the legacy of the great Blues harpmen of this hallowed ground, I arranged a special Blues Harmonikids session to benefit youth in the vicinity who are facing special challenges in their lives. Sunflower Landing is an innovative, home-like long-term residential treatment facility for adolescents with substance abuse and related problems in nearby rural Dublin, Mississippi. This was the third time I conducted a Hohner-sponsored Harmonikids session at the facility. 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 my friend, fellow musician, and Pinetop Perkins Foundation Board member Randy Armentrout to assist on guitar.

As in my previous visits, the 90 minute session on June 21 was a resounding success. The 20 young participants enthusiastically cheered and applauded to as Randy and I played several Blues songs and explained their deep roots and significance to their homeland. They loved hearing the Blues and they were delightfully astonished with the gift of shiny new Hohner-donated 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 supervisor Joey Dycus's heartfelt note of thanks and touching feedback from the teen participants (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



Dear Mr. Allegretto,

We certainly enjoyed and appreciate the time you spent with us this year. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the session. Many of these kids come from unstable homes and have a lot of pain inside. They struggle with avenues to express themselves and their feelings. This is what makes it so awesome for them to learn about the blues and playing harmonica; it gives them the possibility of a new way to feel their issues out. The kids have been playing their harmonicas and some are beginning to make a marvelous sound. We certainly hope that you can return next year. Here are some of the things the kids have to say:

            Lindsey said, “I really got a new appreciation for music and the blues.”

            “Nothing is impossible and the smallest things, such as music, can bring us up and allow us to live life more to the fullest,” says Nicole.

            Chloe told me that her father plays the blues and she now has the means to play along with him. “This was not just a fun experience, but it could help me to build a relationship with my father” she reported.

            Megan said the experience "Inspired me to be happy and appreciate music in a different way."

            Jasmine, who had returned early from a home pass, was down in the dumps due to family issues. She said, “this helped me to get past the hurt feelings and look on the bright side of things.”

            Nick, who plays guitar and is a superb vocalist said, “ It is really awesome that Mr. Allegretto took time out of his busy life to teach a bunch of us kids how to play the harmonica; he was really patient and a great teacher. I love learning new instruments.”

            Kalean said, “This was really inspiring and makes me think of what I want to do with my life, make people happy!”

Once again, we always appreciate your time and look forward to you coming again. Most of these kids have been hurt and let down by the people who are supposed to love them the most, and any experience that shows them that people do really care and that they are worthy of a life that consists of them pursuing their dreams helps to build them back up! I tell them all the time that dreams are not just the life we dream about having that is beyond our reach. Dreams are to be pursued and fulfilled! As long as we set goals and do our best to achieve them, anything is possible!


Joseph Dycus
Supervisor, Sunflower Landing Teen Substance Abuse Rehab Center
Dublin, MS

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