'Walking catalog' of music lives for blues, its history Science teacher called an expert on the subject

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Larry Benicewicz teaches science, but he lives for the blues.

The Lindale-Brooklyn Park Middle School teacher has amassed a collection of more than 100,000 recordings -- all 45s -- of blues artists. He uses his vacations to trace the roots of the blues down the Mississippi River and has brought local blues artists to play for his students.

He has immersed himself in the history of the music so deeply that national and international blues publications consider him an authority on the subject.

"He's a walking catalog of records," said Dale Patton, associate editor of Blues Rag, the publication of the Baltimore Blues Society. "I think people find his articles very interesting because they learn a lot through the fact that he writes about a lot of people who are unknown to them."

Benicewicz, who is 49, said he is drawn to the blues because the themes are timeless and cathartic.

"It is kind of a spiritual music," he said. "It's my spirituality, though I'm not spiritual in the religious sense. But blues gets you through the night."

Benicewicz said he started collecting blues records in the 1960s, but didn't know much about the artists except for what was in the liner notes until 1984, when word about his vast collection got around and people started asking him about the blues.

"I became more interested in the blues, and I actually started traveling to blues territory," he said.

He traveled to Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis and visited juke joints in backwater towns in the Mississippi Delta in search of the men and women who lived, died and played the blues. "I visit wherever the blues is suspected of originating in the United States," Benicewicz said.

Soon, he found himself asking the artists for interviews and writing about them for Blues Rag. That led to work for international blues magazines.

"He's very educated on the history of the music. He's almost like a historian. He draws from his knowledge of the history and his understanding of the culture," said Marcia Selko, vice president of the Baltimore Blues Society.

Benicewicz's favorite artists include Howlin' Wolf, known for his rough vocals; Lazy Lester, a harmonica player who lives in Baton Rouge, La.; Guitar Gabriel; and John Jackson.

Benicewicz, who began teaching in Anne Arundel schools 25 years ago, said he brought some blues artists to his school because "I think it's just important to expose kids to cultural diversity."

"Some of the kids have never heard any kind of music other than Madonna," he said. "It's just another facet of music and sometimes it wins a few converts."

Pub Date: 10/20/96

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