International Conference on the Blues brings musicians, music scholars to campus


The Second Annual International Conference on the Blues promises to bring legendary entertainment and academics to Delta State University on Monday, Oct. 5 and Tuesday, Oct. 6, including GRAMMY award-winning Blues artist Dom Flemons, former National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Dr. William Ferris, an historic statewide proclamation honoring B.B. King and a free performance from GRAMMY-nominated Blues musician Bobby Rush and Mississippi Governor’s Award-winning Blues musician James “Super Chikan” Johnson.

The conference, which is still open for registration, brings together Blues scholars, historians and fans from all over the United States in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, a place known as the epicenter of Blues music and history.

Among the highlights of this year’s Blues conference:

* the bestowing of a statewide proclamation signed by all five living Mississippi governors designating B.B. King as the “Mississippi’s Secretary of State of the Blues”;

* a keynote address by Blues scholar and Southern culture historian Dr. William Ferris of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill;

* a master class and performance from GRAMMY winner Dom Flemons, known as the “American Songster”;

* events highlighting Blues music songwriters and performers including ‘Blues in the Round’ sponsored by Visit Mississippi;

* and “The Storytellers featuring Bobby Rush and Super Chikan: Up Close and Personal”, a free public concert sponsored by the International Delta Blues Project and the Bologna Performing Arts Center.

Visit here for a complete schedule of events, or here for a complete list of presenters.

“This year’s International Conference on the Blues represents the power of the Blues to strengthen partnerships and to engage diverse communities on local, regional, national, and global scales,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning. “We appreciate the generous support of the Robert M. Hearin Foundation and other organizations that are making this conference possible, including Visit Mississippi, Entergy, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, Bridging the Blues, Mississippi Blues Commission, BPAC, Mississippi Grounds, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, the Dockery Farms Foundation and several other sponsors and partners. Through these relationships, Delta State University is empowered to offer an unparalleled educational and cultural experience to its students, faculty, and staff, as well as Delta residents and visitors.”

The second annual conference is part of the International Delta Blues Project, which is funded by the Robert M. Hearin Foundation and is based at The Delta Center for Culture and Learning. The conference is being managed by a team of campus and community collaborators including the Delta Music Institute, the Department of Music, the Division of Languages & Literature, the Office of Institutional Grants, and Cleveland Tourism.

“I always marvel at the variety of scholars that our conference attracts,” said Dr. Shelley Collins, a professor in the Department of Music and co-chair of the International Conference on the Blues. “Either our presenters are alums of these schools, graduate students at these universities, or teach at the following institutions: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, George Washington University, The University of North Texas, the Lionel Hampton School of Music at the University of Idaho, the University of Oregon, Indiana University, Loyola University of New Orleans, Columbus State University, the New York City Public Schools, and Perm State University in Russia.”

Flemons who is known the “American Songster,” has performed music professionally since 2005 and has played live for over one million people just within the past three years. As part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he co-founded with Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson, he has played at a variety of festivals spanning from the Newport Folk Festival to Bonnaroo, in addition to renowned venues such as the Grand Ole Opry.

Ferris, a widely recognized leader in Southern studies, African American music, and folklore, is the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the senior associate director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South. He is also adjunct professor in the curriculum on folklore.

The former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ferris has conducted thousands of interviews with musicians ranging from the famous (B.B. King) to the unrecognized (Parchman Penitentiary inmates working in the fields). He has written or edited 10 books and created 15 documentary films.

“Bill Ferris is a personal hero of mine,” said Don Allan Mitchell, interim chair of the Division of Languages & Literature and co-chair of the International Conference on the Blues. “Every Blues class I teach, I have my students read his groundbreaking Blues from the Delta book, which is an essential text for any Blues scholar or fan.”

Mitchell said the appearance by Flemons expected to be an exciting part of the conference.

“Dom Flemons is known for his work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, but he is also a walking American songbook, and his knowledge and expertise in playing the country Blues and classic Blues is phenomenal,” Mitchell said.

This year’s conference promises to build on the vision established for the event when it began last year, Mitchell added.

“We hope to establish a long-term and sustainable Blues musicology conference, and we especially want to foster the next generation of emerging scholars of the African American Blues tradition,” he said. “Yes, the Mississippi Delta has a legacy tied to the Delta Blues, but the Blues has become a world-wide music, and we want to examine all genres of the Blues and its ever-present global influence. We know that Cleveland & Delta State prides itself on hospitality, so we think we are a perfect place to host such scholarly dialogues.”

For more information, please contact Mitchell and Collins at

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. For more information, visit