Blues buff Santelli to explain "The Importance of Blues in American Music History"
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 23, 2013 - The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. The Experience Music Project in Seattle. The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles. The British Music Experience in London.
You’ll find all of these groundbreaking music museums on the resume of one man — Robert Santelli, who will be in St. Louis on Wednesday as part of the National Blues Museum’s 2013 Film/Lecture series.
Santelli’s topic Wednesday evening will be; "Rollin’ and Tumblin’: The Importance of Blues in American Music History." That theme fits in well with the National Blues Museum series, which is designed to keep the museum in the public eye before its planned opening in late 2014 in downtown St. Louis.
"I’ve always been a huge fan of the blues," Santelli said, in a recent telephone interview from Tampa, Fla. "That’s why, when I heard about the National Blues Museum project, I offered my help. And I’m also a big fan of the city of St. Louis, in addition to being a Rams fan from the team’s time in LA. If I were to relocate to the Midwest, it would be to St. Louis." Although Santelli is not officially involved with the National Blues Museum effort here, he’s definitely pleased to offer any assistance he can to the project — as a speaker in the series, as well as his expertise in the music museum field.
Santelli was chosen as one of the original curators of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1993 during its start-up phase, and when it moved to Cleveland in 1995 from New Jersey, where he had established a Popular Music Studies program at Monmouth University. He worked in Cleveland for five years before becoming CEO of the Experience Music Project, and then was named executive director of the GRAMMY Museum in 2006.
Santelli has also written more than a dozen books, including: "The Best of the Blues: The 101 Essential Blues Albums;" "The Bob Dylan Scrapbook, 1956-1966;" "This Land Is Your Land: Woody Guthrie and the Journey of an American Folk Song;" "The Big Book of Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia;" and "Greetings from E Street: The Story of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band."
"I started out as a music journalist, and as far as working in the music museum area, I happened to be in the right place at the right time," Santelli said. "When I first started the popular music program at Monmouth, the only major music museum in existence was the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. So I guess the opportunity found me, as far as the museum career.
"But I also think music museums are vitally important. American music is such a great story, and it’s so much a part of our American history and tradition. I’d even say that music is much more important to our culture than fine art."
Currently, Santelli is spending a great deal of time traveling as part of the GRAMMY Museum’s Music Revolution Project. The program, in its second year, is designed to assist high school students in developing their musical creativity and knowledge. A month-long academy was held in Kansas City from mid-June through mid-July. Another took place in Tampa, from July 22 – Aug. 16.
"We choose 25 to 30 young musicians from ages 14 or 15 to 19 from our applicants, then bring them together," Santelli said. "We put them together in music history and composition classes, and also have mentoring sessions with GRAMMY Award nominees or winners. And we also put them together in ensembles to create music."
For Santelli, the Music Revolution Project extends the work in which he’s already been involved, with museums and his music journalism.
"My credo is to be involved in projects that: inform, interpret and inspire," he said. "And that’s the bottom line for whatever I do. And hopefully, my lecture Wednesday night, as part of this National Blues Museum series, will do all three."
Terry Perkins is a freelance writer who covers the music scene in St. Louis.