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International Delta Blues Project, GRAMMY partner for free public film and music event

William Bell acknowledges the audience for their standing ovation following his performance.

William Bell acknowledges the audience for their standing ovation following his performance.

The Delta Center's International Delta Blues Project at Delta State University recently partnered with GRAMMY Museum Mississippi to present a free, public event of educational film and live music.

The "Take Me to the River" community film screening is one of several Blues Leadership Incubator events that have been offered by the International Delta Blues Project. Blues Leadership Incubator events focus on economic opportunity related to Blues education and tourism in the Mississippi Delta. These events are free and open to the public through a generous grant from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation.

Nearly 150 guests from throughout the Mississippi Delta gathered at GRAMMY Museum Mississippi to see a 45-minute version of the critically-acclaimed documentary “Take Me to the River,” produced by Martin Shore and created at historic Royal Studios in Memphis. The film brings multiple generations of award-winning Memphis and Mississippi Delta musicians together, following them through the creative process of recording an historic new album.  “Take Me To The River” features Terrence Howard, William Bell, Snoop Dog, Mavis Staples, Otis Clay, Lil P-Nut, Charlie Musselwhite, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Yo Gotti, Bobby Rush, Frayser Boy, The North Mississippi Allstars and many more.

Martin Shore introduces his film Take Me to the River

After viewing “Take Me to the River," the crowd enjoyed live performances from The Hi Rhythm section (featuring Charles and Leroy Hodges), Stax Music Academy Alumni Band, William Bell, Frayser Boy, Al Kapone, and GRAMMY winner Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, owner of Royal Studios. Boo Mitchell recently served as keynote speaker for Delta State's International Conference on the Blues during a Blues Brunch held at GRAMMY Museum Mississippi.

According to Frayser Boy, an Academy Award winner for Best Original Song, these performances are as much about education as they are entertainment.

“I come from a hip-hop background. I never really used live music in performances before I was invited to be a part of this project, “ he said. “But these guys have taught me more in a couple of years than the fifteen or so previous years I was working in this business. All these old guys - these guys that have spent their lives making music - they taught me to better understand where music comes from, and how important it is to our communities. Just as importantly, they are teaching me how to make a career out of this, not just a single record. To do that, I need to know where my music comes from and why it was made the way it was made.”

Attendees linger in the lobby of the museum and visit with the musicians following the performance.

To underscore the educational emphasis of the event, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area was invited to open the program with oral history documentaries created by students from Delta Hands for Hope of Shaw, MS, and the Rosedale Freedom Project of Rosedale, MS. The students attended after-school workshops learning film and oral history skills through a grant from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. The students interviewed and photographed Mississippi Delta residents to learn how music has influenced their lives.

“The Take Me To The River program was one of the best nights of music we’ve had at the Museum,” said Jane Marie Dawkins, Education and Public Programs Manager for the museum. “The artists, film and student projects all provided a very entertaining and educational experience. It meant a lot to us to showcase this music from our region, and it was an unforgettable night at GRAMMY Museum Mississippi.”

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 serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place On Earth” workshops. For more information, visit http://deltacenterdsu.com/.

CELEBRATING INDEPENDENCE WITH THE BLUES

I want to tell you a story from 'way back:

Truck on down and gig me, jack,

In eighteen hundred and sixty-five, 

A hep cat started some jive, 

He said, "Come on, gates, and jump with me

At the Juneteenth Jamboree."

 

The rhythm was swinging at the picnic ground,

Fried chicken floating all around;

Everybody there was full of glee,

Trumpets blaring in the air,

Mellow barbecue everywhere,

Clarinets moaning in the hall;

All the gates was having a ball,

They didn't know how to cut no rug,

But all the cats had a gal and jug,

Everybody happy as they could be,

At the Juneteenth Jamboree!

The 4th of July holidays are upon us, which provides a good occasion to think about blues and celebration of political holidays. Blues artists are often booked at municipal events celebrating the 4th, but the topic of Independence Day doesn’t seem to figure too much in blues lyrics. This may have something to do with the fact that most blues are ostensibly about romantic relationships.  But it’s also the case that celebrating the Declaration of Independence from United Kingdom rule in 1776 might not resonate too much with people whose descendants were enslaved at the time. 

For many African Americans “independence day” is known as Juneteenth, and more precisely June 19th, 1865, when Union soldiers announced to African Americans in Galveston, Texas that the Civil War was over, and that they were free. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, had theoretically been in effect since January 1, 1863, but that was little comfort to those still under bondage. 

This photo, taken in Austin in 1900, is from a Smithsonian magazine article on early celebrations of Juneteenth.  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/juneteenth-a-new-birth-of-freedom-9572263/?no-ist

This photo, taken in Austin in 1900, is from a Smithsonian magazine article on early celebrations of Juneteenth. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/juneteenth-a-new-birth-of-freedom-9572263/?no-ist

This photo from an early Houston celebration is featured in this article -  http://www.ultimatehistoryproject.com/juneteenth-a-day-of-jubilation.html

This photo from an early Houston celebration is featured in this article - http://www.ultimatehistoryproject.com/juneteenth-a-day-of-jubilation.html

Early celebrations of Juneteenth were multi-faceted, including education, encouragement of self-improvement, fun and games, barbecuing, and, quite simply, a celebration of the ability to freely gather, a basic right deprived during the slavery era. Churches were often the site of Juneteenth celebrations, but eventually many sites were purchased or acquired that were dedicated to the holiday. 

Recognition from local officials varied—in many areas the holiday was ignored, while in others it was a part of broader celebrations. For instance, between 1936 and 1951 the Texas State Fair included a Juneteenth celebration, with the initial one drawing between 150,000 and 200,000 celebrants for events including a “cabaret show” featuring top entertainers.

The Civil Rights movement, with its emphasis on independence and self-pride, rejuvenated Juneteenth Celebrations, and today they’re regularly celebrated by local municipalities around the country, sometimes officially, as in Texas, where it became a state holiday in 1980. 

Which takes us back to the blues. It’s certainly not the case that blues is essential to Juneteenth—the celebration predates the emergence of the music—but for many decades blues has been central to Juneteenth Celebrations, which nowadays often take place on the Saturday nearest to the 19th.  The 1940 song above by Arkansas native Louis Jordan, the most popular blues performer during that decade, is one of the few blues songs that address Juneteenth, but its celebration of downhome pleasures suggest that blues was long welcome at the get-togethers.

 

Unsurprisingly, Juneteenth events are particularly popular in Texas, with blues-themed gatherings held in many smaller locales as well as in Dallas, Austin, and Houston, where the Juneteenth Festival, established in 1977 by jazz activist Lanny Steele’s SumArts Organization, was for many years one of the largest free outdoor blues events in the country. The Houston celebrationserved as a public forum for honoring the city’s rich, if under recognized blues history, with different artists or individuals celebrated each year.

Here in Mississippi the most long-lasting blues-themed event is the Juneteenth Festival in Columbus’ historic 7th Avenue District, which has been held for more than twenty years, A Google search reveals many Juneteenth Celebrations across that country that are advertised as blues, R&B and jazz. And just like July 4, Juneteenth is likewise associated with downhome food, as hinted at in the the “Juneteenth Rhythm and Ribs” festival in Round Rock, Texas, and, in Pompano Beach, Florida, “Juneteenth: A Celebration of Emancipation and Freedom at the Blues and Sweet Potato Pie Festival.”

The pleasures celebrated in Louis Jordan's "Juneteenth Jamboree" still resonate today, as expressed in this 2014 take of the song by jazz singer Catherine Russell. 

For more information on Juneteenth visithttp://www.juneteenth.com

And on Juneteenth in Texas, visit - https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lkj01

Angola Bound Revisited: Prison Music of Louisiana

On June 10 the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum in Angola will host the symposium “Angola Bound Revisited: Prison Music of Louisiana,” which addresses the history of music at the infamous prison, which is bordered by the Mississippi River. In addition to talks by scholars, there will be performances by current prison bands and an appearance by Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers, who spent time in Angola as a resident.

The musical heritage of Angola Penitentiary is best known due to work of father and son folklorists John A. and Alan Lomax, who discovered the musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter there during a 1933 visit. Following his release, Ledbetter traveled with the Lomaxes, and became an influential performer in folk music circles.

But why were the Lomaxes at Angola to begin with?  Folklorists are often interested in older cultural expressions that are fading out due to the passage of time and people’s adoption of newer cultural trends, and the Lomaxes—as well as other folklorists—sought out prisons because of their relative isolation from modern media and pop culture. 

For many decades Angola, like the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, was run as a working plantation, and inmates toiled at farm work and tasks including clearing ground and chopping timber using simple technology. Likewise, they were largely shut off from popular culture in the form of radio and records, and had to entertain themselves, sometimes via songs that stemmed back to the 1800s.

 

Ledbetter, with his enormous repertoire of blues, ballads and children’s songs, was a relative exception, and the more common recordings made by the Lomaxes and others were of the songs prisoners sang to accompany work. The following film, made by Pete and Toshi Seeger at a Texas penitentiary in the 1960s, demonstrated how workers used song to coordinate tasks as well as to pass the time.

 

In 1933 John A. and Alan Lomax also visited Parchman, John Lomax recorded blues pioneer Booker White there in 194,  and Alan would return there in the late 1940s and in 1959. The Lomaxes captured powerful recordings of prisoners performing blues, group work songs and “field hollers” – unaccompanied work songs – such as this “levee camp holler” by Johnny Lee Moore

Dust-to-Digital's box set of Alan Lomax recordings from Parchman can be found here.

To find out more about this history of music at Parchman, you can visit the webpage [ http://msbluestrail.org/blues-trail-markers/parchman-farm ] for the Mississippi Blues Trail marker that’s placed on Highway 49 across the main gate from Parchman, which is about 25 miles away from Delta State. 

Last year the Dust-to-Digital label also issued a beautifully packaged boxed set of Lomax’ late ‘40s and 1959 recordings at Parchman, featuring essays and many photos from inside the infamous penitentiary.

Facebook link to symposium - To find out more about the conference, visit their Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1299718390056944/  

International Blues Scholars Registration Opens

Delta State University is proud to announce the creation of the International Blues Scholars Program, a global online certificate program that is part of the International Delta Blues Project housed in the Delta Center for Culture and Learning. This multi-disciplinary approach to the study of the Blues includes not only in-depth examination of the musical form, but also a scholarly lens on its influence in art, literature, history, and economic development.

Registration for the program is currently open and will last until May 15. Tuition assistance is available for qualifying students.

The International Blues Scholars Program is an online academic certificate program available to students all over the world. Students may register for up to 12 hours of graduate or undergraduate level courses. Those completing all 12 hours will receive a Certificate of Completion from Delta State University.

Courses offered this summer include Sociology of the Blues, taught by acclaimed Blues scholar Scott Barretta who was recently awarded the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts for Mississippi Heritage, and Psychology of Hip Hop and the Blues, lead by Delta State professor Temika Simmons, a recent recipient of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning's Award for Excellence in Diversity. Additional courses are History of Rock n Roll, Blues Literature, and Modern American History: History of the 20th Century South.