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


4:00–6:00 pm REGISTRATION

4:00–6:00 pm OPENING RECEPTION: BLUES at the GRAMMY | Enjoy hors d'oeuvres and entertainment by Keith Johnson during this come-and-go-event*

4:30 pm           Introductions and Welcome | Sanders Soundstage
Nwaka Onwusa, curator, The GRAMMY Museum
Zakiya Hooker, singer-songwriter and daughter of John Lee Hooker
Diane Hooker-Roan, daughter of John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker exhibit tour led by Nwaka Onwusa following the discussion

*Free and open to the public; space is limited

6:15 pm            AMPED & WIRED | Sanders Soundstage
Join us for a live recording with interviews and performances by Jontavious Willis, Marquise Knox, and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. 

Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s Amped & Wired presents performances by some of the South’s best emerging acts, caught live on stage at venues around the state and sponsored by GRAMMY Museum Mississippi. From rock and pop to hip hop, blues, alt-country and all points in between, Amped & Wired celebrates the incredible musical diversity of our region.

Open exclusively to Conference registrants and GRAMMY Museum MS members. Conference registrants should reserve a seat for the Amped & Wired event online at the GRAMMY Museum MS website.

Moderators: Don Allan Mitchell and Scott Barretta


8:00 am–4:00 pm | GRAMMY Lobby

The registration and CD/book tables will be open from 8:15–4:00. Musicians and writers are invited to bring items to sell.

8:00–9:00 am | GRAMMY Lobby

8:00 Registration and breakfast buffet begin
8:30 Welcome remarks and announcements

Dr. Shelley Collins and Prof. Don Allan Mitchell, co-chairs
President William LaForge, Delta State University
Dr. Rolando Herts, Director, Delta Center for Culture and Learning

9:00-9:50 am | GRAMMY Lobby

Dr. John Szwed, Professor of Music and Jazz Studies (emeritus), Columbia University: Bringing the Sound of Delta History Back Home

Moderator: Dr. Rolando Herts

Please remain seated at the end of the keynote for the Lomax Partnership Announcement.

9:50-10:05 am   BREAK

10:10–10:55 am PANEL DISCUSSION: A LOMAX CONVERSATION | Sanders Soundstage
Dr. John Szwed
Dr. Rolando Herts
Dr. Anna Lomax Wood, President, Association for Cultural Equity
Dr. Jorge Arévalo Mateus, Executive Director, Association for Cultural Equity/Alan Lomax Archive

Moderator: Emily Jones, University Archivist

11:05–11:55 am
Sanders Soundstage

Velia Ivanova, Columbia University: “Made in the USA”: The Prison in the American Folk and Blues Canon This paper examines the folk and blues music collected on Alan Lomax’s ethnographic visits to prisons of the American South. Lomax’s work in prisons was undertaken at a time when the disappearance of chain gangs across the US removed prisoners from view and established a perceived distance between inmates and the large majority of Americans. A historical look at his efforts in recording and popularizing music made behind bars reveals this distance to be an illusion.

Prof. Kim Rushing, Delta State University: Parchman: Inmates and their Stories
In 1994, photographer R. Kim Rushing was the first outside photographer in Parchman’s history allowed long term access to inmates and the chance to photograph them in their cells and living quarters after earning great trust with his subjects. This presentation offers a glimpse of the men incarcerated in this infamous place. 

Moderator: Jon Mark Nail



Dr. Laura Nash, Fairfield University and Prof. Andrew Virdin, Mountain Valley (CO) School District: It’s More than the Music: The Influence of the Blues on Early Hip-Hop
Popular music of the 20th century includes the blues and its many descendants: jazz, gospel, R&B, soul, funk, rock & roll. The influence of the blues on developing genres does not stop in the 1970s. Hip-hop started in the mid-1970s and has been a dominant genre for the last quarter of the 20th century. Some say it is the first genre not influenced by the blues; we will demonstrate how the blues was foundational to the establishment of hip-hop.

Dr. Mitsutoshi Inaba, Austin Peay State University: The Blues as the Roots of Rap Music
The presentation explores the blues as the roots of rap hip-hop music. While rap music is a unique African American art form in the 1970s, some core musical, lyrical, and philosophical elements that constitute rap music, such as rapped verses, looping, and sampling are already observed in the blues and other traditional African American musical performances, as heard in many recordings by John Lee Hooker among others. 

Moderator: Dr. Temika Simmons


12:00-12:55 | Food Trucks at GRAMMY

Enjoy regional cuisine presented by Delta chefs


1:00–1:50 pm

THE LEGACY OF JOHN LEE HOOKER  |  Sanders Soundstage

Dr. Tom Zlabinger, York College / CUNY: Protodelic Sounds: The Foundational Blues Repertoire of Psychedelic Music
Many of the bands and musicians associated with the psychedelic sixties based much of their music on the blues. Many covered the repertoire of major blues musicians. This collection of songs can then be seen as a foundation for psychedelic music. By listening to the sounds and lyrics borrowed from the blues tradition, the contributions by African-American musicians to a global phenomenon can be illuminated and the birth of psychedelic music can be better understood.

Dr. David Whillock, Texas Christian University: The Song Remains the Same: Authenticity in the Style and Music of John Lee Hooker
There has been much debate over the issue of authenticity and the Blues as a genre and cultural artifact of society. This paper explores the assumption of “imagined strictures” that define the authenticity of music. John Lee Hooker migrated out of Mississippi like many other Country Blues artists. Unlike many of this contemporaries, Hooker’s style remained consistent throughout his career. Using representative songs the paper will discuss style and how his “boogie” never wavered.

Moderator: Dr. Douglas Mark



Prof. Michael Smith, The Ohio State University: Murder, Mayhem, Myth, and Music: The Irresistible Allure of Stagger Lee and Billy
Murder, Mayhem...will examine the true story of Lee Shelton and Billy Lyon, and the fateful disagreement in 1895 that elevated them to the status of American folk legends. Within a few months of their deadly encounter, blues musicians began creating songs that commemorated what would seem to have been just another bar shooting in St. Louis. This presentation will examine the various ways the tale has been interpreted, expanded, and presented by blues, country, rock, and R&B musicians.

Prof. Odie Blackmon, M.T.S.U. and Vanderbilt: The Blues Had A Baby...and Named Him Chuck Berry!
A final research project for Scott Barretta’s “Sociology of the Blues” class that is a part of DSU’s “Blues Scholars Program.” The blues had a profound influence on rock legend Chuck Berry. Presented in the form of album liner notes, this presentation is a compilation of ten songs and research that represent his blues roots. 

Moderator: Dr. Brian Becker


2:00–2:50 pm

Dr. Adam Gussow, University of Mississippi:  A People of the Devil in God's Territory: How Clarksdale Claimed “the Crossroads” Brand
Every blues aficionado knows of “the crossroads,” an iconic intersection in Clarksdale, Mississippi marked by a guitar-topped monument where, legend has it, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. But few know the monument’s designer, Vic Barbieri, or the process through which Clarksdale’s leaders, including former mayor Bill Luckett, managed to convince the Mississippi State Legislature and the governor to pass a law certifying Johnson’s devil-haunted myth. This paper tells that story. 

Moderator: Don Allan Mitchell



Mr. William (Will) Southerland, The Academy at Penguin Hall, Wenham, MA: The Uplift Boogie: Black Self-Determination, Hidden Transcripts, and the Blues
This paper investigates the coded lyrical and musical language of The Blues, arguing that the hidden transcripts found in these structures reveal that the Blues has long been the official soundtrack of black self-determination and uplift, with an inherent pragmatism that defies accusations of accommodation. The Blues are political, linked to historical lines and persistent defiant attitudes of collective black self-actualization despite the precarity of black life under white supremacy.

Mrs. Nikysha Gilliam, Los Angeles Unified School District: Blues Folk: Storytellers and History Keepers
Most would agree that people who sing the blues have a story to tell, and some can be quite interesting! What happens though, when blues folk choose to go beyond storyteller and musician and become history keepers? Join us as we take a look at a few choice individuals who dared to tell the history of their time in song, and join their ranks to create your own historical blues piece.

Moderator: Dr. Zina Taran


3:00–3:50 pm
THE BLUES REVIVAL IN THE 1960's|  Sanders Soundstage

Prof. Charles Gower Price, West Chester University of Pennsylvania (emeritus): Janis Joplin and the Blues Tradition
Attracted to Odetta and Leadbelly, Joplin loved Bessie Smith. Soul artists, such as the Franklin sisters, Tina Turner, and Otis Redding, also influenced her. Janis was very supportive of her blues models. Notable was Janis’s relation to Big Mama Thornton whose song “Ball and Chain” she made famous. As with Etta James, Janis held both women in high regard, and gained their respect as well. A survey of Joplin’s blues covers reveals her unique transformations of the originals. 

Dr. Tammy L. Turner, Murray State University: The Creation and Legacy of the 1969 and 1970 Ann Arbor Blues Festivals
In 1968 a small group of students came together with the singular goal of creating a music festival. With no prior experience in such an endeavor, they created the first North American blues festival. It featured an iconic roster of performers, boasted 20,000 attendees, and lead to a more expansive festival in 1970. These two festivals became part of blues history and served as an inspiration and model for other blues festivals around the country.

Moderator: Dr. Melody Fortune



Lydia Warren, University of Virginia: We're Gettin’ Off This Street: A Contemporary Portrait of the Beale Street Gig Economy
Beale Street is the most-visited tourist destination in Tennessee, and is touted as both an historic landmark and an entertainment enclave. Despite the heavy foot traffic and constant media attention, few visitors understand the lived experience of the Beale Street gig economy. Using ethnographic detail, I show how unsteady wages, unreliable crowds, and a centralized power base results in life on Beale as “musical sharecropping,” and how musicians conceptualize and navigate this lifestyle. 

Dr. Clay Motley, Florida Gulf Coast University: Visitors to the "Black Belt": Race, Memory, and Tourism as Clarksdale, Mississippi Gets the Blues
Clarksdale, Mississippi’s discovery of its own blues history is a story of the intertwined dynamics of race, memory, cultural commodification, and oddly enough, Conway Twitty. Although Clarksdale today declares itself as “Birthplace of the Blues,” and “Home of the Crossroads,” it has only recently embraced its blues history and attendant tourism. This paper analyzes how and why Clarksdale’s civic leaders “got the blues” and the promise and pitfalls of blues tourism. 

Moderator: Dr. Tim Watkins


4:00–4:50 pm
BESSIE’S BLUES  |  Sanders Soundstage

Dr. Michael Bowman, Arkansas State University: St. Louis Blues—The 1929 Film
W. C. Handy’s classic St. Louis Blues inspired a short film by the same name. Released in 1929, St. Louis Blues features legendary singer Bessie Smith in her only film performance. The motion picture is noteworthy because of its innovative cinema and recording techniques when sound film was still in its infancy. In 2006, the Library of Congress placed the motion picture on the National Film Registry. This presentation discusses the film’s importance in American cinema history.

Michael Zhang, Duke University: How the Blues Transformed Jazz
Blues forever changed jazz harmony, and from it emerged new ways of approaching improvisation. Blues harmony emphasized dominant function chord cycles. This presentation will unpack the emotional facilities of unconventional Blues harmony.

Moderator: Dr. Jonathan Westfall



Mr. Jonathan Hilbun, Mt. Zion Memorial Fund: Roosevelt Graves: Last Days on the Gulf
This presentation uses the obituaries, his marriage license, and other primary documents pertaining to the life and death of blues and gospel musician Roosevelt Graves and his wife Elizabeth to reveal his last days in the early 1960s. 

Mr. DeWayne Moore, Mt. Zion Memorial Fund: Revisiting Ralph Lembo
Using previously unexplored evidence, this essay re-examines the work of Stephen Calt and Gayle Dean Wardlow, who provided the bulk of information on Itta Bena talent scout Ralph Lembo, to correct falsehoods and misinterpretations as well as present the true history of his business ventures, his engagement with the entertainment world, and his relationship to major record labels such as Columbia, Paramount (Rubin Lacy), Okeh (MS Sheiks), and Victor (Bukka White). 

Moderator: Dr. Tim Watkins


5:00-7:00 pm (on your own)


7:30-9:00 pm  |  
Free Concert at the Courthouse: A Tribute to John Lee Hooker  |  Downtown ClevelandFeaturing Kingfish Ingram, Marquise Knox, and Jontavious Willis

Limited seating; you are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket


9:00–until | VISIT MISSISSIPPI PRESENTS BLUES IN THE ROUND  |  Mississippi Grounds Coffeehouse

Open Mic/Jam Session: Join award-winning performing songwriter Tricia Walker for an intimate “in the round” acoustic event at Mississippi Grounds. A “pilgrim chair” will be open for invited conference guests to join in the music.


9:30 am–2:00 pm | GRAMMY Lobby

The registration and CD/book tables will be open from 8:15–4:00. Musicians and writers are invited to bring items to sell. Coffee and doughnuts are available.

10:30 am - 5:30 pm VISIT the GRAMMY Museum
Paying conference attendees receive a free museum pass.


10:30–11:00 am

John Sullivan, Independent Scholar: The Blues as “Seedbed” for Spoken Word Performance/Poetry: A Dialogue on “Roots” Archtectonics
The Blues permeate so much of the oral expressive arts in America that it’s no surprise when spoken word and poetry meld with the foundational work of blues artists. This performance-demonstration unpacks the blues roots within an original spoken word piece, “Dragontooth Children’s Blues,” in terms of structure, content, and inflection. Another piece (accompanied by Dobro) with similar links to the blues, “Bright Skin of My Mother,” will close out the session, backed by Montana blues musician, Gilbert Gildroy, on guitar and harmonica.

Moderator: Dr. Zina Taran


11:00–11:50 am

Dr. Laurissa Backlin, Delta State University: The Blues in Art Songs: From the Mississippi Delta to the Concert Halls of America and Europe
Blues music is recognized as an important influence on American popular music in the 20th century, including rock and roll and R&B. However, the Blues has also inspired composers of Western art music for voice and piano. This lecture-performance will discuss four art songs by composers who have seamlessly integrated musical elements from the Classical and Blues traditions, with performances to highlight this fusion of two musical worlds. Dr. Karen Fosheim, piano

Dr. Bret Pimentel, Delta State University: Blues Scales as a First Step for Beginning Improvisers
It is well accepted that without blues, there would be no jazz. In jazz education, blues elements—especially the “blues scale”—are often used as first steps in learning to improvise. The Delta State Jazz Ensemble is made up of student and community musicians at a variety of skill levels, including some who have never improvised before. This performance demonstrates how even newcomers to the art of improvisation can create spontaneous jazz solos using raw materials from the blues.

Moderator: Dr. Jung-Won Shin


Dr. David Flynn, Professor Emeritus, Volunteer State Community College: The Blues in Nashville, TN
Nashville has a deep, rich history of the blues starting early, and culminating in the 1950s and 1960s. Jefferson Street was lined with clubs where just about every blues figure played at one time. Jimi Hendrix and Little Richard got their starts in the district, and figures such as Marion James, “Nashville’s Queen of the Blues” performed frequently. Truly, Music City has been more than Country. 

Jacqui Sahagian, University of Mississippi: The Same Old Blues Crap: Fat Possum Records’ Matthew Johnson and the Selling of Contemporary Blues
This paper examines the impact of white male blues influencers on the genre, and how Fat Possum head Matthew Johnson’s persona and work continues that narrative. My argument contradicts Johnson’s narrative about himself, as he critiques folklorists, record collectors, and blues fans and presents himself as doing something different from those figures. Johnson belongs in a lineage of blues influencers who have molded interpretations of the genre since white audiences began listening to the blues.

Moderator: Dr. Julia Thorn

12:00 - 1:30 pm  |  KEYNOTE LUNCH  
12:00-12:30 Buffet  |  GRAMMY Lobby

12:30: Interview with GRAMMY award winner Aaron Neville  |  Sanders Soundstage
Dr. Rolando Herts, Director, Delta Center for Culture and Learning
Laura Howell, Executive Director, Bologna Performing Arts Center

*Registrants with badges will be given priority seating during the interview

Moderator: Don Allan Mitchell

1:30–2:55 FILM FESTIVAL I  |  Sanders Soundstage

1:30 Short films presented by The Lens Collective
The Lens Collective is an intense multimedia workshop held every spring and focuses on cultural preservation through digital storytelling.  

1:45 Two Trains Runnin’ 
Two Trains Runnin’ is a feature-length documentary directed by acclaimed filmmaker Sam Pollard, narrated by Common, and featuring the music of Gary Clark Jr. The film pays tribute to a pioneering generation of musicians and cuts to the heart of our present moment, offering a crucial vantage from which to view the evolving dynamics of race in America.

Moderators: Will Jacks and Don Allan Mitchell


1:40–2:55 pm PAPER SESSION  |  GRAMMY Classroom

Mr. Boyce Upholt, Delta State University: The Future of the Juke Joint

When Mr. Willie Seaberry died last summer, it seemed like the end of an era: Seaberry’s famous dance hall, Po’ Monkey’s Lounge, was known as “the last juke joint.” But was it? This lecture will consider the legal and ethical issues surrounding the future of Po’ Monkey’s—and of juke joints more generally. Are juke joints active and authentic, or just a construction for tourists? How do we celebrate their history without romanticizing the region’s complex past?

Dr. John Zheng, Mississippi Valley State University: Southern Identity: Abandoned Country Churches in the Mississippi Delta
Country churches have grounded their places in the Delta, each has an individual voice or identify of the place. Once they are abandoned, they will decay for a permanent consequence—a state of nothingness and nonexistence. This presentation is on abandoned country churches that no longer stay or still exist stubbornly until one day they fall apart, but they all survive in the photographs to reflect history, to track change, and to preserve identity of the Mississippi Delta. 

Moderator: Melinda T. Allen


3:05–3:55 pm  |   FILM FESTIVAL II  |  Sanders Soundstage

In the early 1960s, Waterman became interested in traditional blues music. He rediscovered blues legend Son House living in Rochester, N.Y. Waterman then formed Avalon Productions, the first agency dedicated to promoting blue artists. Waterman managed many acts, including Bonnie Raitt. He’s been representing and photographing blues artists for more than 40 years. He was the first non-performer to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Source:  


3:05–3:55 pm  |   PAPER SESSION  |  GRAMMY Classroom


Dr. Ron Pimentel, Washington State University, Vancouver: B.B. versus Bourdieu: Blues Cred versus Mainstream Cultural Capital
Sociologists have studied the various factors that determine social status for individuals. Bourdieu (1984) presented the concept of cultural capital as a determining factor for social status and for determining what constitutes tastes for a society. While these theories may be generalizable to societies as a whole, application to the blues music community is distinctive. Some of the factors that establish status in the blues community run counter to those for general social status. 

Arthur Calderon, Attorney at Law: Avoiding the Legal Blues: Protecting Your Music from Others and (Sometimes) Yourself
This presentation will explore legal trends affecting artists in the music industry, and provide aspiring musicians and industry professionals with the legal tools to understand their rights regarding their music, incorporating cases involving popular musicians.

Moderator: April Mondy


4:00–5:30 pm  |   FILM FESTIVAL III  |  Sanders Soundstage

4:00 Short films presented by The Lens Collective
The Lens Collective is an intense multimedia workshop held every spring and focuses on cultural preservation through digital storytelling.  

4:10 Shake ‘Em On Down: The Blues According to Fred McDowell
Shake ‘Em On Down is a one-hour documentary film that tells the story of Fred McDowell, who was first recorded by Alan Lomax in 1959, mentored Bonnie Raitt, and served as the cornerstone of the unique and enduring North Mississippi- style of blues music. Film by Joe York and Scott Barretta.

5:15 Q&A with filmmaker Scott Barretta

Moderator: Will Jacks and Don Allan Mitchell


4:05–4:55 pm  |   PAPER SESSION  |  GRAMMY Classroom


Lesley Thomson-Sasso, Southern Illinois University: Nobody in Mound Bayou Has the Blues: A History
In this session, participants will learn about the history of Mound Bayou and the Blues. The all-black town of Mound Bayou serves as a unique example of a community who broke the social engineering of the Nadir South. Mound Bayou’s history provides a unique lens to study the blues. Its citizens often touted that “No blues was ever played in Mound Bayou, since they didn’t have the Blues.” 

Dr. J. Janice Coleman, Alcorn State University: The Cotton Sack Blues or the Blue Cotton Sacks
Five of Dr. Coleman’s self-designed cotton sacks recall her daily life at her often interchangeable play-and work-ground in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, as well as pay tribute to her mother and other women who passed down the art of sewing from scraps in the historically all-black town’s countryside. Incidentally, all of these sacks reflect predominant shades of blue.

Moderator: Lisa Cooley


5:30 pm  |  DINE AROUND TOWN (on your own)


Tickets available for purchase by calling the BPAC box office (open 8-5) at 662-846-4626
Conference attendees receive a 10% discount on ticket purchase