International Conference on the Blues • October 1-3, 2017


Keynote Speaker


Dr. John F. Szwed, is an anthropologist and jazz scholar, whose publications range from anthropological studies of Newfoundland and the West Indies to record liner notes and jazz journalism. Among other books, he has published Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (1997), Jazz 101 (2000), So What: The Life of Miles Davis (2002), and Billie Holliday: The Myth and the Musician (2016) . Doctor Jazz, a book included with the CD set, Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax, was awarded a Grammy in 2005.

Before coming to Columbia, Szwed taught Anthropology, African American Studies, and Film Studies for many years at Yale University, and also received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations. He is President of the non-profit music production company Brilliant Corners, which is based in New York City.

Guests Artists


Aaron Neville 
Having one of the most evocative and recognizable voices in American music, Aaron Neville is an international ambassador of New Orleans R&B, though his soaring falsetto sounds at home in many styles. Coming of age in the incredibly creative 1950s Crescent City R&B scene, Neville gained national attention with his 1966 hit “Tell It Like It Is,” the stirring ballad and #1 hit, as well as with the Wild Tchoupitoulas, a touring Mardi Gras celebration that led to the creation of the Neville Brothers band — an institution that would confirm Neville’s iconic status.

Over his four-time Grammy-winning solo career, Neville has scored a string of hits starting with “Tell It Like It Is,” memorable duets with Linda Ronstadt including “Don’t Know Much” and a hugely popular cover of Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool.” His latest album, Apache, is a solo album that makes the case for Aaron Neville as the most holistic of soul men. Its hard R&B side matches anything the Neville Brothers ever recorded for true grit, while still allowing plenty of space for a singer who’s arguably the most distinctive vocal stylist on the planet to tell it like it is.


Christone “Kingfish” Ingram was born to Princess Pride Ingram and Christopher Ingram in 1999. Exposed to the rich Gospel music emanating from his family’s church, combined with the Blues he heard being played by musicians in his Delta neighborhood, learning under the tutelage of Daddy Rich and Bill Howl-N-Madd Perry, and being a cousin to the great and legendary Country music singer, Charlie Pride, Kingfish became a natural sponge of musical talent. At the age of 6, Kingfish began playing the drums; at age 9, the bass guitar; at 11, the lead guitar; and at 14, vocals. Kingfish has shared the stage with household names such as Bob Margolin, Eric Gales, Rick Derringer, Guitar Shorty, and Buddy Guy, and has played at festivals and venues all over the U.S. and in 8 countries. He has been a guest on the Rachael Ray Show and the Steve Harvey Show, and performed at The White House for First Lady Michelle Obama. 

Born St. Louis, Marquise Knox hails from a musical family deeply rooted in the Blues. He learned how to play guitar from his grandmother Lillie and played with his uncle Clifford. He spent his early teenage years in St. Louis mentoring under the late great Blues legend, NEA Heritage Fellowship recipient and Grammy Award winner Henry James Townsend. Marquise’s talents have earned him performing rights with some of America’s most notable blues performers such as blues legends B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins and David “Honeyboy” Edwards. He has also performed at dozens of festivals, and has toured all throughout Europe. Knox’s debut album Manchild was nominated for a Blues Music Award for Best New Artist Debut. The release received worldwide acclaim, including Living Blues’ Best Debut Artist Award and a Blues Music Award nomination for Best Debut Artist, and was followed by his second album, Here I Am.

Hailing from Greenville, Georgia, Jontavious Willis grew up singing gospel music at the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church with his grandfather. At the age of 14, he came across a YouTube video of Muddy Waters playing “Hoochie Coochie Man” and was hooked. That’s when he set his course on the blues. All types—Delta, Piedmont, Texas, Gospel. As a fingerpicker, flat-picker and slide player. On guitar, harmonica, banjo and cigar box. And four years later he was playing on Taj Mahal’s stage. Currently Jontavious is finishing his studies at Columbus State University, majoring in sociology. But on most weekends you can find him playing a small house show, up on the main stage or posting music videos for his friends and fans around the world.


Dr. Laurissa Backlin, soprano, is Assistant Professor of Music at Delta State University where she teaches applied voice, lyric diction, and song literature. As soprano soloist, she has sung in performances of oratorio, concert works, and in recitals across the United States. She has sung professionally with choirs based in Dallas, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and eastern Tennessee. Laurissa’s area of research focuses on the pedagogical benefits of duet literature in the undergraduate voice studio.

Scott Barretta teaches Sociology of the Blues for the DSU Blues Studies Program and is an instructor of sociology at the University of Mississippi. He is a writer and researcher for the Mississippi Blues Trail, the host of the Highway 61 radio program on MPB, and has a weekly music column in the Clarion Ledger. He is the former editor of Living Blues. Barretta is editor of Conscience of the Revival: The Writings of Israel “Izzy” Young, and coauthor of Mississippi: State of Blues

Odie Blackmon is a GRAMMY-nominated songwriter with more than 20 million in sales and the Country Music Association’s Single of the Year to his credit, and is a successful producer and publisher. Blackmon is Assistant Professor at Middle Tennessee State University’s Department of Recording Industry, Lecturer in Music at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, and graduate student in Vanderbilt’s MLAS program. 

Dr. Michael Bowman is an Assistant Professor of Media at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. Bowman has produced several documentaries and has extensive experience in TV production. He received his doctorate in Heritage Studies at Arkansas State in 2008 and a degree in Mass Communications from Arkansas State in 2000.

Arthur Calderon is an attorney in Cleveland, Mississippi, where he focuses on public sector liability, business law, and intellectual property law. As part of his practice, he is local counsel for several entities in the entertainment industry, including a regional non-profit whose focus is promotion of the independent music industry, local media groups, and a national film production company. 

Dr. J. Janice Coleman, a native of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, is an English professor at Alcorn State University and the “Female Professor of the Year, 2016-17.” In l984 she earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Alcorn State and later a master’s in popular culture from Bowling Green State and a doctorate from the University of Mississippi. For nearly thirty years, Dr. Coleman has been developing “Quilts and Other Quadrilaterals,” a patchwork art exhibit which includes cotton sacks.

Dr. David Flynn’s jobs have included newspaper reporter in Memphis, magazine editor and teacher. He has five degrees, and is both a Fulbright Senior Scholar and a two-time Fulbright Senior Specialist. His literary publications total more than two hundred. Among his writing residencies are stays in Ireland and Israel.

Dr. Karen Fosheim is Chair of the Department of Music at DSU. She teaches piano, music theory courses, Music in American Culture, and is co-director of the DSU Community Drumming Ensemble. An active performer, Dr. Fosheim has appeared as a soloist and collaborative pianist around the US, Korea, and Mexico. She holds degrees from The University of Arizona and Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.

Nikki Gilliam hails from Pontiac, Michigan, earning a B.A. in English at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and later an M.A. from Cal State University, in Northridge, California. Each year, Gilliam enjoys helping her students find and recognize the power of their own voices. As an English teacher, she has always been fascinated about the role of authors as not only storytellers, but keepers of history, and now she turns that fascination to blues music. She makes her home in Los Angeles, CA.

Dr. Adam Gussow is an associate professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. His books on the blues include Mister Satan’s Apprentice: A Blues Memoir (1998), and Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition (2002), winner of the Holman Award from the Society for the Study of Southern Literature. His new book, Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition, has just been published by the University of North Carolina Press.

A native of Gulfport, Mississippi, Jonathan Hilbun earned a B.A. degree from Mississippi College and a J.D. degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law. He is a civil litigation attorney whose practice has primarily concentrated on toxic torts and environmental matters. His love of the blues was born during many late nights at the old Subway Lounge in Jackson, Mississippi and a trip through the Mississippi Delta in 2001 that culminated with a B.B. King show in Indianola.

Zakiya Hooker had a front-row seat to learn the blues as the daughter of renowned blues giant John Lee Hooker. After her debut performance in 1991 with her dad, she went on to perform with Etta James, Charles Brown, John Hammond, and Taj Mahal. A strong and versatile vocalist, Zakiya has performed internationally and at Filmore Auditorium and The San Francisco Blues Festival and The Monterey Jazz & Blues Festival. 

Laura Howell is the Executive Director of the Bologna Performing Arts Center at Delta State University, a multi-disciplinary venue with 2 performances spaces: a 1,171 seat main hall and a more intimate 145-seat recital hall. Her responsibilities include curating an annual season of performances, including concerts, national Broadway tours, family-friendly and school performances, as well as overseeing all aspects of the Center’s daily operations.

Born in Kure, Hiroshima, Japan, Dr. Mitsutoshi Inaba earned his PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of Oregon. He currently teaches courses on world music and African American music at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. He is the author of Willie Dixon: Preacher of the Blues (Rowman and Littlefield, 2011) and John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson: The Blues Harmonica of Chicago’s Bronzeville (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016).

Velia Ivanova is a fourth-year PhD student in historical musicology at Columbia University, where she is working on a dissertation about the legacy of prison ethnography in American folk and blues music. She holds a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Arts in musicology from the University of Ottawa. Her current research is supported by a doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Keith Johnson, a guitar player and singer, graduated from Delta State University with a degree in entertainment industry studies with a concentration in audio engineering and is working on his MBA. Keith, who comes from a long line of blues artists, is very proud of his Delta roots. He is the grand-nephew of Muddy Waters.

Emily Jones is University Archivist and Associate Professor at DSU. The University Archives collects the institutional history of DSU and also the history of the Mississippi Delta. Jones is also the curator for the Dave “Boo” Ferriss Baseball Museum and of the permanent exhibit “Mississippi Delta Chinese Experience.” Jones has been the MS Humanities Council Educator of the Year recipient. She holds a MA in Public History from the State University of West Georgia and a BA in History from DSU. 

Dr. Jorge Arévalo Mateus is Executive Director at The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) in New York, teaches World Music at Hunter College and the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and is a musician, composer, and ethnomusicologist. He was previously curator/archivist for the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives. He is a Grammy-winning producer and ASCAP Deems Taylor Award-winning author. 

Since receiving his master’s degree in Public History from Middle Tennessee State University in 2010, DeWayne Moore has spearheaded the renewed efforts of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, which erected the headstones of Charley Patton, Sam Chatmon, T-Model Ford, and most recently Bo Carter, among others. He has written articles in Living Blues, Blues & Rhythm, and MS Folklife, and he will complete his doctorate in History at the UM in December 2017.

Dr. Clay Motley is the Director of the Honors College and Associate Professor of English at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida. His scholarship and teaching focus on popular music in the American South, particularly blues, country, and early Rock & Roll. He is currently writing a book on the music history of Clarksdale, Mississippi, which tells the story of Clarksdale’s popular music from nineteenth century minstrel shows to today’s blues tourism. 

Dr. Laura Nash, associate professor of music at Fairfield University, is an award-winning teacher whose research focuses on interdisciplinary and intersectionality of vernacular music. Dr. Nash and Prof. Virdin are co-directors of the NEH Summer Institute, From Harlem to Hip-hop: African-American History, Literature, and Song. 

Nwaka Onwusa is the curator at The GRAMMY Museum, where she has worked on 13 exhibitions to date, has taught education workshops, and developed curricula as a resource for schools and educators in L.A. With experience as a K-5 theater/arts teacher, Onwusa became the education coordinator at the museum. Onwusa’s responsibilities included writing curricula, teaching workshops, and booking talent for education workshops. 

Dr. Bret Pimentel has taught applied woodwinds, chamber music, and jazz courses at Delta State University since 2009. Bret’s varied career has included performances with Dave Brubeck, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Temptations, the King’s Singers, the O’Jays, Brooklyn Rider, Guy Hovis, the North Mississippi Symphony, the North Mississippi Symphony Big Band, and more. He has degrees in music performance from the U. of Georgia, Indiana U., and Brigham Young U.

Dr. Ron Pimentel, or “Dr. P,” has been a marketing professor for 27 is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor of marketing and the Faculty Director of the Professional Sales Certificate program at Washington State University Vancouver. Ron has published three book chapters, and many journal articles and conference proceedings. Ron plays the bass guitar and counts as one of his biggest thrills, the night that he played with his son, “Dr. P” (Bret), during open-mic night at Ground Zero in Clarksdale.

Dr. Charles Gower Price received his Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is professor emeritus at West Chester University at Pennsylvania. He also served as a visiting professor at the University of New Mexico as a Distinguished Chair in the Honors College. He was awarded three National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships and a French Government Fellowship in musicology. His articles have appeared in American Music, Early Music, Journal of American Culture, and in book essay collections. 

R. Kim Rushing is Professor of Art at Delta State University, where he has taught photography for twenty-three years. His photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times and Garden and Gun. He is the author of Author of Parchman, Photographs by R. Kim Rushing, published by University Press of Mississippi.

Jacqui Sahagian is a graduate student in the Southern Studies program at the University of Mississippi. Her research interests include gender studies and queer theory, gendered violence in blues, the history and influence of hill country blues, and the role of gender in southern vernacular music. Her thesis work focuses on the Oxford-based label Fat Possum records, and the way it marketed its blues music. She splits her time between Oxford, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee.

Prof. Michael Smith enjoys presenting workshops and lectures on American music history in general, jazz, blues, and popular music in particular, and arts integration for non-arts educators. He has presented clinics in Idaho, Nebraska, Texas, Mississippi, Colorado, Illinois, and Ohio. Mike conducts the Jazz Workshop big band and the Fusion combo at The Ohio State University, where he also teaches jazz pedagogy, jazz styles and analysis, and serves as Assistant Director of Marching and Athletic Bands.

Will Southerland is a lifelong Southerner and recent New England transplant, residing in Boston, where he is a humanities instructor at The Academy at Penguin Hall. His earliest memories are backseat car rides through Mississippi Delta high cotton with his father, and since his rediscovery of the Delta in 2006, he has devoted significant time to its study, including acquiring an MLA in Africana Studies, focusing on Mound Bayou, MS, in 2017.

Lesley Thomson-Sasso holds a BA & MA in American History. She is a Ph.D. student of History/Museum Studies at SIU. Her dissertation will examine the town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi in the era of the Nadir. She draws from over 10 years of progressive leadership in public secondary education. She is the previous recipient of a district-level Teacher of the Year Award and Veterans of Foreign Wars National Teacher of the Year.

John Sullivan has received the Jack Kerouac Literary Prize, Writers Voice: New Voices of the West award; fellowships with AZ Arts, Artists Studio Center, WESTAF, Changing Scene Summer Play (Denver), Eco-Arts Performance - Earth Matters On Stage (U of Oregon); Artistic/Producing Director of Theater Degree Zero; and directed at Seattle Public Theater. His work may be seen in Hayden’s Ferry ReviewCalifornia QuarterlyLucid StoneOVSSteel Toe ReviewRazorTumblewords, and Houston Po-Fest Anthology.

Dr. Tammy L. Turner teaches Jazz History, Music History, and the History and Sociology of Rock and Roll at Murray State University and West Kentucky Community and Technical College. She holds degrees from the University of Tennessee at Martin (B.M), Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (M.M.), and the University of Mississippi (D.M.A.). Her area of interest is twentieth century American music, particularly blues, jazz, rock, and the life and work of John Cage.

Boyce Upholt is a graduate student in Delta State’s Masters of Liberal Studies program,. His thesis is a journalistic account of the Mississippi River’s wilderness. Boyce is also a freelance journalist, with work published in The Atlantic and The New Republic. His essay on Po’ Monkey’s Lounge is forthcoming in The Believer magazine.

Prof. Andrew Virdin is an English teacher and works with the Colorado Department of Education to develop innovative and culturally relevant pedagogy. Dr. Nash and Prof. Virdin are co-directors of the NEH Summer Institute, From Harlem to Hip-hop: African-American History, Literature, and Song. 

Lydia Warren is a fourth year graduate student at the University of Virginia. She uses both archival and ethnographic research to nuance the dominant scholarly and popular narratives about blues music. Lydia serves as Vice President of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter for the Society for Ethnomusicology, recently received a UVa AHSS pre-dissertation research grant, and completed a Praxis Digital Humanities Fellowship in 2016.

Agent, manager, producer, promoter, Dick Waterman is the only person inducted in The Blues Hall of Fame who was not either a performing artist or a record company executive. He established himself in the Blues community as a diligent advocate for the artists and the art of Blues. Waterman is primarily known today as an archivist and photographer of Blues, Country, Rock and Jazz legends from Mississippi John Hurt to Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton. His commitment to documenting the Blues artists he worked with and came into contact with throughout the years is legendary.

Dr. David Whillock is Associate Provost and Dean of the Academy of Tomorrow. He holds a Ph.D. in Critical Studies from the University of Missouri. His teaching and research includes History and its Depiction in Cinema, The American Vietnam War Film, A Cultural Perspective on the Blues, and Ways of Knowing. He is the guitarist for the South Moudy Blues Band. His publications include Journal of Film and TelevisionJournal of Popular Culture, and Southern Communication Journal

Dr. Anna Lomax Wood is an anthropologist and president of the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) at Hunter College. She has written about musical traditions in Greek immigrant families; Sicilian and Calabrian folk poetry; and Italian and Italian immigrant folk music. Wood received the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1980 and a Grammy in 2006. She is coordinating publication of the Global Jukebox/Dancebox in order to make available the data and methodologies of Alan Lomax’s Cantometrics, Choreometrics, and other cross-cultural studies of performance style.

Michael Zhang, originally from New Zealand, is a student at Duke University majoring in Electrical & Computer Engineering with a minor in Music. A classically trained pianist, Michael immediately took interest in progressive rock, blues, jazz, and Afro-Cuban music. He spent his last summer in the Mississippi Delta with the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program and interned for the Delta Music Institute. Michael is passionate about the intersection between music and technology.

Dr. John Zheng teaches at Mississippi Valley State University. He has published photographic essays on Robert Johnson, Emmett Till, Delta Shacks, African American hospitals in the Delta, The Lower Mississippi River in Southern Quarterly and Arkansas Review.

Dr. Tom Zlabinger is an Assistant Professor of Music at York College in New York, where he directs the York College Big Band. Dr. Zlabinger has most recently written about the depiction of musicians in and around media franchises, including The Big Lebowski, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, The Simpsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Wars. Additional scholarly interests include the pedagogy of improvisation, decolonization, and psychedelic music.