Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sirius in DC

As a part of our adventure to DC, blues musician Ben Wiley Payton recorded a few songs in the SiriusXM Satellite Radio studios. I traveled with Ben and served as liaison and folklorist for his performances at the Library of Congress and the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage as part of the American Folklife Center's Homegrown Concert Series. I'll post soon with all of the wonderful details.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cultural Heritage in Belzoni

Highway 49 is one of my favorite routes out of the Capitol City. Growing up in Greenwood, we always too Highway 55 south to Jackson. We hardly ever traveled 49 to the "City with Soul." Once I moved to Jackson and found myself living in the heart of the city, I started using 49 as my main thoroughfare to the Delta for work trips, and for pleasure.

I've been obsessed with the Flood of 2011, and rightfully so. My friends and brethren in the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas, as well as Memphis and eastern Lousiana, are having a tough time watching the waters rise as they pack everything they own into trailers and haul it all to higher ground. Facebook, particularly this page, has been very helpful in keeping up with the developments surrounding the flood. I've also enjoyed following the photograghs posted by blogger Kallie Dreher on her site, Hello Delta.

I got to see some high water for myself yesterday, as I once again took 49 out of Jackson and headed northeast to Belzoni, Catfish Capitol of the World. My destination was the Hooper Community Center on Silver City Road, where I'd be meeting with Helen Sims, a lady who wears many hats. Today she was convening a meeting of the Culture-Heritage Consortium, a grassroots organization that works to promote heritage tourism in Belzoni and Humphreys County. Sims has started an entrepreneural training program for unemployed, underemployed and part-time workers. The program brings in guest speakers to share information about various avenues to economic development. I was a guest speaker for Thursday's meeting, and shared some ideas about heritage tourism in Mississippi, and the great potential to build a creative economy in Humphrey's County. I presented alongside Marvin Haire, director of the Delta Research and Cultural Institute at Mississippi Valley State University.

It was inspiring to see so many young faces in the crowd. While I realize these individuals were present because they are unemployed, underemployed or part-time, the ideas circulating through the room and the greater sense of pride in place was remarkable. One girl shared her love for designing and tayloring clothes, as well as a special barbeque marinade that she hopes to bottle and mass market to tourists. After the meeting we all gathered in the cafe at Hooper Community Center and shared an amazing meal of southern soul food. Truly, I tell you, the BEST butterbeans I've ever had. Hands down. Next time you are traveling 49, make sure to stop in the Hooper Community Center Cafe and get a good meal. They are open Monday-Friday for lunch. You'll thank me later!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Delta Blues Museum's Debut Album

Our friends over in Clarksdale at the Delta Blues Museum have a lot to celebrate. They broke ground in March on the Muddy Waters Addition, a long anticipated bricks and mortar project which expands the museum by 7,000 feet. The Muddy Waters Addition will be home to the remains of Muddy Waters' cabin and other interpretive materials surrounding the life and creative work of the famed Mississippi bluesman. "The Muddy Waters Addition represents the museum's ongoing commitment to our mission, honoring the history and heritage of Delta Blues music, musicians and their important influence," said DBM board president William Gresham in a press release issued by the museum.

And while honoring the history and heritage of the blues is a big part of what happens at the DBM, you'd be remiss to overlook the energy and youth that is also central the the museum's mission. The Arts and Education Program has grown tremendously under the guidance of museum director Shelley Ritter and her staff of dedicated blues musicians. The purpose of the DBM's Arts and Education Program is to continue the great musical tradition born in the Mississippi Delta: the Delta blues. Students are taught to play the blues on the instrument or instruments of their choice.

The MAC invited the DBM Band to perform during our 2009 Day at the Capitol advocacy campaign, and they knocked the socks off our state senators and representatives. We even had people dancing on the Capitol floor! Over the past two years I've seen the DBM band perform at festivals around the Delta and they keep getting better and better.

Hence, the release of their first studio album, From Clarksdale to Kansas City, Vol. 1. This 12-track CD covers a range of classic Delta blues tunes such as Muddy Water's Catfish Blues and Memphis Slim's Everyday I Have the Blues. More contemporary R&B hits like Bill Withers No Sunshine show off the band's groovability, and special guests Charlie Musselwhite and Bill Abel help to nicely tie the ecletic mix together.

Album artwork was created by the students themselves, and liner notes by Robin Rushing make it clear that the blues is alive and well in the Mississippi Delta. Rushing writes,

"One of the grittiest andmost natural forms of musical expression, the blues borrows a lot from nature. and nature teaches us that simply because a plant is not in full bloom that doesn't mean it's dead; it simply means it's preparing for the next season. As the seasons turn, something that once seemed withered suddenly bursts forth in a luscious green, bearing flowers, fruit, bounty. Bearing beauty. The same applies to the blues, and the DBM's Arts & Education classes are simply nutrients that supplement the natural progression of this important, everlasting musical form."

All proceeds from the sale of the album benefit the Arts and Education program, a worthy way to update your music collection and help the greater good of arts, music and culture in the Mississippi Delta!

For more information about the CD, the Delta Museum Band or any of the museum's programs, please call (662) 627-6820, or visit the Museum web site at (Note: the website is a great resource for blues news, educational materials and site-seeing.)