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Talk To Your Daughter by Debbie P.

What do an old American blues song and adult education have in common?

Listen to the lyrics in J. B. Lenoir’s, “Mama, What About Your Daughter?” and it’s pretty clear that it’s about her behavior. She’s an uncooperative woman. The singer, a man, implores her mother to recommend him as a suitor.

In 1956, Chicago native Lenoir recorded the tune with a folk/ rhythm and blues fusion feel. The Checker Record Co. label released it as a single (that’s vinyl for you youngsters). Despite the limited audio technology of the recording, the plaintive message is timeless.

Over the next decade, Lenoir performed it solo as a blues tune, with acoustic guitar and with electric pickup; he also played a mean harmonica. Later, the addition of saxophone transformed the song into a jazz classic. Sadly, Lenoir died in the late 1960s before he saw what his versatile creation would become.

In the 1960s, rock and roll music arrived with a crash. British musicians recognized the electric guitar as an instrument of change and they were influenced by American legends such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson. Once obsessed with the possibilities of American blues music, they would explore lesser-known artists like Lenoir. England’s superstar John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers, a true Who’s Who band of rock’s future icons, performed “Mama, Talk To Your Daughter,” live in concert countless times, and the piece took flight.

Through the decades, Lenoir’s gem became a palette for musicians: artists could shape the tune to any form, and audiences loved it. Every band gave the song new life and it leant itself to jam sessions and collaborations of all varieties. Still recognizable as the blues, the song has become international, of the “world music” genre because of its flexibility.

In the 1970s, the hard rocking Irish band Thin Lizzy set the song to a screaming lead guitar riff, introducing it in concert to Germany and the rest of continental Europe. Back in the states, Dr. John and Johnny Winter molded the piece to fit their individual styles by adding piano and harmonica, giving it a zydeco twist. Journeyman guitarist Robben Ford performed the song in concert for nearly 20 years with several bands. In 2003, the great showman Robert Palmer belted out those mournful words in Tokyo, Japan, in one of his final performances.

The link between a versatile tune and education may be coming into focus. “Talk to Your Daughter,” the song and the message, is meaningful many decades later.

As we become older we are naturally more complex, more likely to think things through and to be pragmatic. We can compare situations to others we have seen, and find merit or opportunity where less-experienced humans might not see it. We make excellent students, because we are serious about learning, and we can see the value of education.

So the song, “Talk To Your Daughter,” for me, is more than just a request from long ago. It’s a call to action! It’s not just about communicating with family, but with the wider world. Talk to people, young and old, and find joy in their experiences. Show them how things used to be, so you may watch them soar to new heights. Listen, too, so you can hear what’s between the lines, because communication is only partially about speech.

I believe that J.B. would be proud of his creation now, over half a century later. As his simple song traveled the world, change made it great. The natural complexity that developed over the decades is what adds to the song’s appeal. It brought people together who were worlds apart, and that’s the very definition of art and education.