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BB King Homecoming

Welcome to the “Blues Notes” where we’ll be highlighting events, activities and people that illuminate the richness of culture in the Delta region.  We’ll touch on both general topics as well as specific events, such as the annual B.B. King Homecoming celebration in Indianola, which takes place this Saturday.

King died last May at 89 years old, but the event is continuing as a celebration of his life, singular career and commitment to his home state. The free event takes place on the grounds of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Cultural Center, which opened in 1998 and is now also the site of King’s final resting place. 

The festival starts at 10:00 a.m., and there’s music on two stages through about 8:00 p.m. This year’s headliner is Keb Mo’, and also featured are Teeny Tucker, the B.B. King Museum Allstars, the Big Time Rhythm and Blues Band, Steve Azar & the King’s Men, and Jake & the Pearl Street Jumpers.

After the festival King traditionally played a private show at the historic Club Ebony, and this year the show, which begins at 8:00 p.m.,, will feature guitarist/vocalist Lil Ray Neal with former King band members Reggie Richards (bass), Herman Jackson (drums) and Walter King (sax), with a special appearance by Steve Azar. Tickets are $50/$100.

King’s death was heartbreaking for his many fans around the world, and it hit particularly hard in Indianola, his proclaimed “hometown.”  King was born in 1925 in tiny Berclair, about twenty miles to the east, but he moved to Indianola in his teens, and it was there that he played in a gospel group, found a job driving a tractor, got married, and, most importantly, took up the blues. 

He left Indianola for Memphis in the late ‘40s, and by the early ‘50s King was a national star. He would return home to Indianola to perform on occasion – his second wife, Sue Evans, was the daughter of the owner of the Club Ebony! – but his annual “homecomings” wouldn't become regular until the 1980s.

King first began returning to Mississippi on a regular basis in 1973 with the creation of the Medgar Evers Homecoming celebration, which paid tribute to the life of the Civil Rights martyr, and King would remain the celebration’s main attraction into the 2000s. He was more ambivalent about returning to Indianola, though, because of his perceived notion that his mostly African American band wasn’t getting a full welcome by the community.

Local fans organized the first homecoming event in the late ‘70s, and it took on a regular structure in 1986, when the Chamber of Commerce took over the event and King’s return was celebrated in tandem with Indianola’s centennial. Held on a Friday in early June, the daytime event concluded with a performance by King, whose lighthearted approach to the show was epitomized by a dance contest featuring local kids. 

King would spend the early part of the evening having dinner with old friends, and often would hit the stage at Club Ebony at midnight or later. After the show King would generously give his time to admirers. By the early morning he was on his bus southbound to participate in several days of events associated with the Medgar Evers celebration. 

In his last years King cut back on the time he committed to his annual return, and in 2014 the Indianola Homecoming was billed as his “last time.” It was a bittersweet performance, and while his advanced age was evident there were moments where he demonstrated clearly why he was dubbed the king of the blues. 

 During the 2015 International Conference on the Blues, in partnership with The Delta Center for Culture and Learning and the International Delta Blues Project, the Mississippi Blues Commission proclaimed B.B. King as “Mississippi’s Secretary of the State of the Blues.” The Commission gave a framed proclamation signed by all of the living governors of the state of Mississippi to representatives from the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. For more info, see http://www.internationaldeltabluesproject.com/news1/2016/5/5/mississippi-blues-commission-names-bb-king-secretary-of-state-of-the-blues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mississippi Blues Commission names B.B. King Secretary of State of the Blues

Blues legend B.B. King, Mississippi's Secretary of State of the Blues, surrounded by friends and admirers at the dedication of the "Kilmichael: B.B. King's Roots" Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Aug. 21, 2012 in Kilmichael, Miss. (Photo credit: Mississippi Blues Commission)

Blues legend B.B. King, Mississippi's Secretary of State of the Blues, surrounded by friends and admirers at the dedication of the "Kilmichael: B.B. King's Roots" Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Aug. 21, 2012 in Kilmichael, Miss. (Photo credit: Mississippi Blues Commission)

The Mississippi Blues Commission has designated music legend B.B. King as Mississippi’s Secretary of State of the Blues. One of the most renowned musicians in the world, King passed away in May of 2015.

Mississippi is the first and only state to recognize the contributions of a musician in this manner. The commission will be presenting the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center with a resolution for this recognition signed by Gov. Phil Bryant and the four living previous governors of Mississippi: Gov. William F. Winter, 1984-1988; Gov. Ray Mabus, 1988-1992; Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, 2000-2004; and Gov. Haley Barbour, 2004-2012. The resolution will be part of the permanent collection at the B.B. King Museum & Interpretive Center in Indianola, Miss.

The resolution will be presented at the International Conference on the Blues at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. The conference, presented by the International Delta Blues Project and a diverse array of regional partners, includes a Blues Brunch featuring a panel discussion moderated by noted blues scholar Dr. William Ferris and comprised of members of the Mississippi Blues Commission. Blues legends Bobby Rush and James “Super Chikan” Johnson will also be in attendance. The presentation of the resolution will take place during the conference’s brunch event on Oct. 6 at 9:30 a.m. in the Delta Music Institute on Delta State’s campus.

“On behalf of the entire Mississippi Blues Commission, it is a privilege to honor B.B. King as our Mississippi Secretary of State of the Blues,” said J. Kempf Poole, chairman of the Mississippi Blues Commission. “Mr. King is one of Mississippi’s most influential sons, and with this designation I am proud to say that B.B. King has taken his rightful place at the head of the blues table.”

Known worldwide as “The King of the Blues,” King was considered one of the most influential musicians of all time. His artistic contributions and accolades are numerous and span decades. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the R&B Music Hall of Fame, King received more than a dozen GRAMMY Awards between 1970-2010, including the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award and a GRAMMY Hall of Fame Award for his historically significant recording “The Thrill is Gone.”

During the 1990s, he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Medal of Arts, and the Kennedy Center Honors. During the 2000s, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music awarded him the Polar Music Prize, and President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A recipient of honorary doctorate degrees from Tougaloo College, Yale University and Brown University, King was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as No. 6 on its 2011 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

“Mississippi is known the world over as the birthplace of America’s music, and B.B. King is one of its founding legends and one of our state’s most treasured gifts to the music world,” said Gov. Phil Bryant. “For decades, our souls have been stirred by his talents. From juke joints to concert halls, there is no place his influence hasn’t reached. Deborah and I are saddened by B.B.’s passing. Mississippi has lost a legend. He is the king. The thrill is gone.”

Former Gov. Haley Barbour echoed Bryant’s sentiments.

An emotional King is surrounded by Mississippi legislators in Jackson, Miss. as he is presented with a concurrent resolution naming Feb. 15, 2005, as B.B. King Day.    (Photo credit: Mississippi Blues Commission)

An emotional King is surrounded by Mississippi legislators in Jackson, Miss. as he is presented with a concurrent resolution naming Feb. 15, 2005, as B.B. King Day.

(Photo credit: Mississippi Blues Commission)

“B.B. King was a wonderful ambassador for Mississippi,” said Barbour. “The King of the Blues never forgot Mississippi was home, and he graced us often with his presence. He will be missed. Marsha and I had him for lunch at the Governor’s Mansion on a day he was honored by the legislature. He was warm and delightful, but I will never forget how he gave credit to the people that had helped him throughout his career. He had a big heart as well as big talent.”

The Mississippi Blues Commission is a body of 18 appointed commissioners representing major organizations and geographic/political regions supporting blues initiatives throughout the state. One of the commission’s major projects is ongoing governance of the Mississippi Blues Trail, which began unofficially with two preliminary markers placed in Indianola, which King adopted as his hometown. Highlighting the importance of his contributions, the first marker was placed at a corner where King played as a young man. The other was placed at historic Club Ebony, which is now part of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.

Continuous expansion of the Mississippi Blues Trail throughout the state, country and the world is a testament to the global influence of blues music and culture. The Mississippi Blues Trail consists of more than 170 markers throughout the state. There also are 14 out-of-state Blues Trail markers, two of which are located outside of the U.S. — one in Norway, commemorating the Notodden Blues Festival, and the other in France, commemorating the Cahors Blues Festival.

“Local and global tourism and cultural heritage influences of the Mississippi Blues Trail will be discussed during the Blues Brunch at the International Conference on the Blues,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, a member of the Blues Commission, and director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. “Members of the commission will participate in a panel discussion moderated by Mississippi Delta native and blues and southern studies expert Dr. Bill Ferris from UNC Chapel Hill. This is an appropriate venue for the Mississippi Blues Commission to pay homage to B.B. King, a local hero whose musicianship and life achievements have helped to put the Mississippi Delta on the international map as a blues heritage destination.”

The Mississippi Blues Trail has been made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, AT&T, and the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University. The program is housed within and managed by the Mississippi Development Authority’s Visit Mississippi.

For more information, contact Mary Margaret Miller, bureau manager for Creative Economy & Culture at Visit Mississippi, at mmmiller@mississippi.org or 601-213-7300.

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 http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.