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A blues reunion in Bologna

The IU delegation heard so many incredible stories while helping to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the university’s successful study abroad program in Bologna. But one was especially harmonious.

Janis Russell is an IU alumna who traveled overseas for the first time as a member of the university’s program in Bologna in 1973. While there, she met Michael Brusha, a student at Wisconsin who had been part of the program the year before. Brusha had formed a rhythm and blues band and needed a singer. Russell happily obliged.

Today, Russell is a celebrated jazz and blues singer, who has performed for, among other luminaries, President Bill Clinton, Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela. On Friday, she treated the 200 people or so gathered to celebrate 50 years of the IU Bologna Consortial Studies Program to a wonderful tune about her time in Bloomington, Ind., and Bologna. For his part, Brusha has gone on to become a renowned musical figure himself in Bologna — performing live with his band, Born to Swing, and teaching music at the Merry Melodies music school, which he also founded, right around the corner from the Bologna Consortial Studies Program office. IU Associate Vice President for Overseas Study Kathleen Sideli, who manages the program, credits Brusha for bringing a special cultural gift, American music, to Bologna.

Until this weekend, though, Russell and Brusha hadn’t performed together — let alone even seen each other — since their earliest days in his band.

All of this made their long-awaited reunion, which took place at a celebratory luncheon for IU’s Bologna program on a sunny Saturday afternoon, even more special. The performance was also impromptu — Russell didn’t know Brusha had been invited to play.

Take a moment to enjoy Russell and Brusha, and Brusha’s bandmates, deliver a rousing version of the classic R&B song “Route 66.”

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