The Delta Center at Delta State and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area partnered with Visit Mississippi to promote cultural heritage tourism to the region and state at the 2018 Chicago Blues Festival.
Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State, recently presented at the “Blues Got A Soul” Technology Conference sponsored by the Jus’ Blues Music Foundation.
This is the tenth year the conference has been held, and this is the second year that Herts has represented The Delta Center at the conference.
The event brought industry professionals and aficionados together to discuss cultural heritage preservation and legal issues pertaining to blues music. The conference was held at Horseshoe Casino’s Bluesville event venue in Tunica, Mississippi.
Herts’ presentation focused on blues heritage partnerships in the Mississippi Delta led by The Delta Center. He spoke about the International Delta Blues Project, including the upcoming International Conference on the Blues, a public screening of the film “Take Me To The River” at GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi, and Delta State’s new International Blues Scholars Program, an online blues studies certificate.
The conference also featured GRAMMY-nominated blues legend Bobby Rush and Atlanta based entertainment attorney Jonathan Mason. The event was moderated by Charles Mitchell, CEO and founder of the Jus’ Blues Music Foundation.
“For a second year, I invited Dr. Herts to present at the conference,” said Mitchell. “The Delta Center and Delta State University are continuing to provide great leadership in blues education and awareness of the importance of blues culture. We were excited to learn more about the good work that these organizations are doing here in the Mississippi Delta to preserve blues traditions.”
The conference was held in conjunction with the 16th annual Jus’ Blues Music Awards. The awards honored various music professionals who have contributed much of their lives to advancing and promoting blues music and culture.
This year’s honorees included Sly Johnson, Ruby Andrews, Zac Harmon, Queen Ann Hines, King Edward, Chick Rodgers, Billy Branch, Big Bill Morganfield, Mud Morganfield, Eddie Cotton, Jr., and Clarksdale native L.C. Cooke, brother of soul legend, Sam Cooke. In addition, a special presentation was made to R&B legend Millie Jackson, the inaugural Millie Jackson Award.
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
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/
The Delta Center for Culture and Learning recently hosted the Board of Commissioners of Volunteer Mississippi, also known as the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Services. Volunteer Mississippi’s mission is to engage and support Mississippians of all ages and backgrounds in service to their communities.
According to David Mallery, executive director of Volunteer Mississippi, this is the first time in his eight-year tenure that the Board of Commissioners has met in a Mississippi Delta community.
“We are very impressed with the facilities at Delta State and the professionalism and hospitality that we have experienced here on campus and in the Cleveland community,” said Mallery. “We look forward to more opportunities to connect the Board of Commissioners and Volunteer Mississippi with organizations in the Delta. We appreciate The Delta Center for welcoming us to the region.”
Volunteer Mississippi commissioners and staff members from around the state traveled to Cleveland for the two-day meeting experience. The group’s various points of origin included municipalities as far east as Columbus and as far south as Gulfport and Bay St. Louis.
The meeting took place at Delta State’s Alumni House. Dr. Rolando Herts provided an overview of The Delta Center’s signature partnership programs including the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop, the International Delta Blues Project, and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. Linda Stringfellow also was invited to present on the Mississippi Delta Service Corps, an Americorps VISTA program based at Delta State’s Center for Community and Economic Development.
“Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, is quoted as saying, ‘Service is the rent we pay for living,’” said Herts. “Life for so many Delta residents is economically and socially challenged. Many of these challenges are tied to the Delta’s culture and history. The Delta Center’s programming offers ways for residents and visitors not only to understand our culture and history better, but also to discover ways to become engaged in creating change for the better. We look forward to exploring such opportunities with Volunteer Mississippi.”
Dr. Richard Conville, board chair of the commission, echoed Herts’ comments about how understanding local culture enhances community service.
“Volunteer Mississippi has a strong presence in Delta communities through the Mississippi National Service Network, which includes Americorps, Senior Corps and VISTA,” said Conville. “It makes sense for our Board of Commissioners to have more regular meetings in the Delta so that we can learn more firsthand about the culture of the communities that we are serving. The Delta Center has helped us to begin this process.”
During their stay, the group also toured GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi, learning about the museum’s community volunteer docent program. Afterwards, they dined on authentic Delta barbecue and catfish at Airport Grocery and stayed overnight at a local hotel.
“Everyone here has been so welcoming,” said commissioner Janis Lane from Byram. “I will definitely encourage my family and friends to visit the Delta.”
“Dr. Herts told us about the GRAMMY’s Top 40 Places to Visit in the Delta website,” said commissioner Roktabija Abdul-Azeez from Jackson. “Now that I know about it, I will be using it to plan my next trip to the Delta.”
Established in 1994 as the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, Volunteer Mississippi has worked to encourage a culture of citizenship, service and responsibility to America. In partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, Mississippi Department of Education, Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, and faith-based and community organizations statewide, Volunteer Mississippi fosters community engagement and building volunteer capacity throughout the state.
The Delta Center for Culture and Learning's experiential learning component continues to introduce diverse groups of visitors to the vibrant cultural heritage of the 18-county Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area.
Recently, The Delta Center hosted a Swedish tour group visiting the Mississippi Delta during Juke Joint Festival. This is the third year that The Delta Center has hosted this international group of traveling music enthusiasts.
Organized and led by Anders Roddar and Klaus Engstrom, the group came to the Mississippi Delta to be immersed in the “Birthplace of the Blues.” During this particular visit, the group also learned about and experienced more of the Delta region’s various cultural heritage assets including African American worship practices, civil rights landmarks, and soul food.
“We try to vary our trips each year. This year’s trip is called ‘Rock Your Blues’ and we started in Woodstock, NY before making our way down here,” said Engstrom. “We have been in Clarksdale several times before, but this is our first time here for the Juke Joint festival."
"The culture here in the Delta is so rich and so real. We love the music, the food, the places, and most of all the people. This time, we wanted to do something that we had not done before, so I said let's see if we can go to an African American church service," explained Roddar. "We are so happy that The Delta Center did this for us. The church was so welcoming and the members there embraced us. It felt like coming home."
During the week, the group visited the “Cast of Blues” exhibit at The Delta Center, Dockery Farms, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, and Po Monkey’s Lounge, the world famous rural juke joint in Merigold. They crossed the Emmett Till Memorial Highway to gather at Robert Johnson’s gravesite at Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Greenwood. The group dined on fried catfish and BBQ at The Senator’s Place and Airport Grocery in Cleveland. On Sunday, they attended worship service at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksdale.
For many on the trip, this was their first visit to Mississippi. Peggy Sempler-Boccalini now makes her home in the south of France and attends music festivals regularly. For her, Clarksdale's festival was one of the best she has attended anywhere.
“The feeling is all about the festival. I’ve never seen anything like it," she said. "I live in France now, and we have a lot of festivals and they’re very nice, but there’s something different here. The communication, the being together. You speak with everyone. You are friends. It’s just a very nice feeling here.”
Several of The Delta Center’s experiential learning sites are included on the Top 40 Places to Visit in the Mississippi Delta website. The website was launched recently by GRAMMY Museum Mississippi in partnership with the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area to promote the entire Mississippi Delta as a cultural heritage tourism destination. To learn more, visit http://msdeltatop40.com/.
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 center serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and is the home of the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop and the International Delta Blues Project.
The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University recently provided an introduction to the Delta’s heritage to a group of 30 Swedish Blues Enthusiasts. Individuals came from all over Sweden and included some Swedish speaking Americans as well. The tour began in Memphis and ended in New Orleans. Stops in the Delta included the Delta Blues Museum, Ground Zero and Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale, Po’ Monkey’s Lounge in Merigold, The Delta Center at DSU, Dockery Farms, the Senator’s Place in Cleveland, the B.B. King Museum, and Robert Johnson’s burial site. Many of the tour participants were Blues musicians, and all were very well-read, enthusiastic students of the Mississippi Delta. This was the third Delta tour by the Swedish travel company Travel Arena Falun, based in Falun, Sweden, and they expect to return to the Delta regularly.