Gene Bluestein was a folklorist, educator, social activist and musician. He played music and taught around the world including in China, France, Japan and Finland. It was his belief that music was for everyone, not just musicians, and he advocated a philosophy in which music and the arts were central to life.
Gene was a self-taught musician inspired by the American folk music revival of the 40s, 50s and 60s. He was inspired by folk singer Pete Seeger of whom he saw at a concert that inspired him to buy a banjo and teach himself how to play. With a conviction to draw upon and include all sorts of folk music histories (not simply Anglo-American ones), Gene set about instituting educational programs in classrooms, on stage and on television.
While he was on sabbatical in France in 1974, from his job as American folklore professor at California State University, Gene formed a band with his four children called the Bluestein Family, which was active for over 20 years and went on tour around the world. Gene’s children still are teaching around the USA today.
Music was central to his teaching method even when the subject was not specifically music. To this effect, Gene Bluestein used song to teach classes on a variety of subjects including literature and history. He believed that certain material could be transmitted to younger people through music. The minute ‘Who Built The Ark’ is an example of this technique. It is designed to be sung with children with a call and response structure.
Eventually Gene went on to write a book ‘Poplore: Folk and Pop in American Culture’ in which he challenged the way in which folklore is understood in relation to music. He suggested a new term ‘poplore’ that took into account the changes in the makeup of society as well as technological advances.
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