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Delta Blues Newsletter

December 01, 2015

Note: From the Museum Director

As we head toward the end of this year, I'm taking stock of a great 2015 at the Delta Blues Museum while looking forward to another great one in 2016.

What's made this year so rewarding is that more of you are coming to visit us than ever before: 4,000 more this year than last year. It's that kind of interest and support from you, our visitors and fans, that keeps us working on new ways to make a visit to the Museum a fun, educational, and all-around exciting experience.

It starts on the road to see us. Many of you come to see us by driving south on Highway 61 from Memphis. When you do, look to your left near the Coahoma County Line and you'll see our new billboard:

It's a reminder that the Delta Blues Museum is Mississippi's oldest music museum, founded in 1979. From our beginnings in a back room of Clarksdale's Carnegie Library with a meager collection of artifacts to the professionally curated exhibits in our current home in the historic Illinois Central railroad freight depot, we've grown along with the interest in blues music and culture, which is now a worldwide phenomena.

Thanks to a Visit Mississippi MDA Tourism Development grant, we were able to launch a mobile site. Just visit on your mobile device to check it out. Also, we've just reprinted our brochure and are excited to welcome Yazoo Pass as one of our tourism partners. Look for a brochure in one of the 13 Mississippi Welcome Centers or download a copy from our website. Thank you Yazoo Pass and Shack Up Inn for helping us get the word out!

Education is a key function at the Museum. This summer, we partnered with the University of Mississippi's Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Living Blues Magazine, and the Blues Archive to present a three-day teacher workshop, which was supported by the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Mississippi Arts Commission, Atmos and the We Shall Overcome Fund. The workshop included presentations by blues scholars; performances by musicians Kenny Brown and Bobby Whalen; tours of the Delta Blues Museum; and a walking tour of the Mississippi Blues Trail markers around downtown Clarksdale. This initial effort was pronounced a success, and we've been asked to repeat the workshop. Thanks to all the presenters and teachers who made the workshop a success.

We recently received a grant from the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi to create an "Explore and Learn" feature on The Great Migration. Work has begun on this project and we hope to have it "live" on our website by late spring. If you're not familiar with our Explore and Learn Series, check it out on our home page.

We are thrilled that we have received a Museums for America award from the Institute for Museums and Library Services. The $100,000 grant will allow us to complete the final design of our new permanent exhibits. It's a matching grant, meaning we must raise $100,000 to fulfill it. Check out renderings of the new exhibits on the DBM FB page.

Today, across the country, millions of people are choosing to donate to their favorite charities as part of Giving Tuesday. And we know we have great support from friends like you: Just last month we participated in the first-ever Mississippi Day of Giving, raising nearly $4,000 to match this grant. The Museum ranked in the Top Ten of the "most diverse donors" leader board. We have received additional funding since participating in Mississippi's Day of Giving from the Chisholm Foundation, the Miller Foundation, James Fifield, and Mr. & Mrs. Charles Ritter (THANK YOU!), and are well on our way to meeting our match--but as we look to expand our current exhibits and build out new multimedia experiences for museum visitors, we could still use your help. Click here to donate online, or, feel free to mail in a donation to us at P.O. Box 459; Clarksdale, MS 38614. Your donations are tax deductible.

We are working diligently on our new permanent exhibits which will celebrate and honor Mississippi's blues artists by telling their story, not the story of an industry or an individual. The new exhibits will offer an even deeper look into the life and work of these men and women and showcase their legacy to new generations of visitors hereby creating new audiences for the blues.

Thank you all for making possible the work we do. All the ways in which you support the Museum - through your attendance, your donations, your online interaction - have helped us have a wonderfully successful year of fulfilling our mission.

Thanks again for your support, and have a happy holiday.


Shelley Ritter, Executive Director

This newsletter is supported in part by funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and,
in part, from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

2013 IMLS Award

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"Anthony Mostrom: Paramount Portraits"
Drawings from the Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Vol. 1 and 2

Anthony Mostrom, cartoonist, illustrator, and writer, created hundreds of ink portraits of Paramount's recording artists for Jack White's Third Man Records' reissue of the entire Paramount catalogue. The ink drawings were originally published in two "Field Manuals," 700 pages of encyclopedia-style biographies and discographies of 347 musicians.

Paramount Records is one of America's most important record labels. The company's open-door recording policy led it to the nation's blues, jazz, gospel and folk musics, capturing a comprehensive anthology of what the country sounded like in the 1920s-30s.

"Blues Portraits in Steel: Works by Scott Cawood"

Scott Cawood is a self-taught sculptor with a background in blacksmithing and metal fabrication. He reuses and re-purposes scrap and found steel to create his sculptures. For this Museum show, he created portraits of Skip James, Furry Lewis, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Son House, and Howlin' Wolf. Says Cawood, "I've always felt that these Delta Blues musicians were 'Artists' in the truest sense of the word. This series is meant to broaden that understanding. Each of these portraits is an attempt to capture what I hear in each individual's music and express it in their faces."

Cawood has received wide recognition for his sculptures, showing his work in galleries and museums in New York City, Washington, DC, Baltimore, Miami, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Mesa, AZ, and Maui, HI.

Right: Furry Lewis

"Negro Protest Songs"

Lawrence Gellert, born Laslow Gruenbaum in Budapest, Hungary, collected field recordings in the 1920s and 1930s. He began by making audio recordings, using a makeshift, wind-up recording machine and paper-backed zinc discs; later, he used a Presto tape recorder. Gellert wrote a column for Masses in the '30s, titled "Negro Songs of Protest", which his brother Hugo illustrated with images of lynchings. The columns were eventually collected in a book of the same title. In 1936, Time magazine lauded the "lean, scraggly haired New Yorker" for "collecting Negro songs that few white men have ever heard."


"Gone but Not Forgotten"

Photographs by Billy Johnson, Founder, Director, and Curator of the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland, MS. These pictures capture musicians in behind-the-scenes action at the annual Highway 61 Blues Festivals. Johnson focuses on the musicians backstage and on stage, capturing intimate moments before and after performing, when the artists are enjoying themselves, apart from their onstage personas as public entertainers. Many thanks to the exhibit's sponsors: the Mississippi Arts Commission, Covenant Bank, WADE Incorporated, Oxbow, Mississippi Delta Blues Society of Indianola, Friends of the Delta Blues Museum, and Hunter Paper.

Pictured: T-Model Ford, Paul "Wine" Jones
Photo Credit: Billy Johnson

"27 Years of the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival"

An exhibit of posters that spans the 27 years of the annual Clarksdale event. Lots of names, lots of color, lots of archival photoslots of memories - an eyeful of blues history in a collection of Festival ephemera that are now a valuable record of blues performers and performances.

"Give My Poor Heart Ease"

This exhibit features photos from the book of the same name by pioneering southern folklorist William Ferris who toured Mississippi in the 60s and 70s, documenting African Americans as they spoke about and performed the diverse musical traditions that form the authentic roots of the blues. Here are the stories of blues musicians who represent a wide range of musical traditions--from one-string instruments, bottle-blowing, and banjo to spirituals, hymns, and prison work chants. The book comes with a DVD of rare film of Delta life in the early '70s and a CD of music from the same period. You can buy from our Gift Shop here.



April 14 - 17, 2016 Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale

August 12 - 14, 2016 Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival, Clarksdale

October 05 - 08, 2016 King Biscuit Festival, Helena, AR

October 15 - 18, 2016 Deep Blues Festival, Clarksdale


John Holmes, DBM Instructor: Living and Teaching the Blues

John Holmes has taught in the Museum's Arts and Education program since 2013. Richard Crisman, current Gift Shop Manager and a former teacher in the program himself, interviewed Holmes about his life in the blues and his interest in passing on his knowledge of the music and the history through the A&E program.

DBM: What is your background in the blues?

JH: It goes back over 40 years. My parents were running the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia, MS when I was born. My mother used to babysit me at the caf�, where I listened to the jukebox. It played Jimmy Reed, Howling Wolf, all the great musicians and their songs. My brother, Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, still runs the caf� - it's the same as it was 50 years ago!

Sometimes, there would be live entertainment, and I'd watch the musicians and wonder how hard it would be to learn to play guitar. I heard older guys play acoustic guitar sitting outside the caf�. But I really liked the smooth sound of bending strings played on the electric guitar.

One night in Lambert, I saw a young band performing contemporary blues - BB King, Albert King - and that inspired me. The next morning, the lead guitar player, Earnest "Guitar" Roy, came by the Blue Front Cafe. We started talking and became good friends, and he started teaching me how to play the guitar.

DBM: What blues influenced you personally? What Delta artists do you especially like?

JH: Muddy Waters. And B.B. King's style of bending notes was a big influence on me. And Elmore James. When I was 13 - 14, I had some older friends who would drive to Jackson on the weekends, and sometimes, I would ride with them without my mother knowing that I was. Once, we went to a club where we saw Elmore James perform. I was very inspired by his slide guitar playing.

DBM: How did you become involved with the Arts and Education program?

JH: I wanted my grandson to be involved with the guitar. So I decided to bring him to the class at the Museum to try and change his attitude - because he wasn't very interested at first. And you know what happened after that!

DBM: You were always hanging around the classroom while your grandson Aren was in class, and you couldn't resist picking up the guitar and helping out, being a former school teacher. We were actually looking to hire another person to help with teaching the class, so I said "If you're gonna be hanging around here anyways, we might as we put you to work!" So, I asked if you'd be interested in the job and you've been a teacher here ever since.

JH: Tell you what about teaching: I've picked up more knowledge about the guitar and new techniques while teaching alongside Walt Busby, another teacher here. I've also learned the names of the chords I've been playing for many years-and several new ones, too.

DBM: What do you think brings kids to the program? How much does the average student know when they arrive?

JH: I think when kids see the Museum band performing at local festivals and parades, they think it looks fun, and they want to try it. And some parents want something positive for their kids to do with their spare time, to keep them out of trouble after school.

When they first start out, most kids know absolutely nothing about blues, the music or the history of it. So when we teach the class a new song, Walt and I try to teach the students some history about the artists who performed and recorded the song.

DBM: How would you describe how you teach the blues in the classroom?

JH: I always start with the simplest style of blues, like a Jimmy Reed 12-bar blues. Some students start out using only one finger and begin adding more fingers as they progress in the class. At first, they may stay on only one chord, then add more chord changes, one by one.

DBM: What do you hope to teach kids about blues culture and history?

JH: Artist's backgrounds and how they lived. How their music originated from the work songs sung while working in fields on plantations during the times of slavery. People sang songs to pass the time and ease their minds while doing hard work, and the blues came from that.

DBM: Who are the students' favorite blues musicians?

JH: The favorite songs for the beginners are "Big Boss Man" and "Baby, You Don't Have to Go" by Jimmy Reed. The advanced class's favorite songs are "Tore Down" by Freddie King, "Sweet Home Chicago" by Robert Johnson, and "Hideaway," also by Freddie King. The all-time favorite song around the program is "Cleo's Back" by Junior Walker and the All-Stars. It has been a favorite for the past decade in the class.

DBM: What is your favorite thing about teaching at the Museum?

JH: To see that smile on a child's face when they finally get that note right. That's what gives me joy. I love to see that "big teeth" smile!

The Delta Blues Museum's Band CD, From Kansas City to Clarksdale, Vol. 2,
is available from our Gift Shop: Order here.


Celebrate the holidays at the Crossroads with gifts from the Delta Blues Museum!

When you buy from our Shop, you support the Museum. Thanks!

Shop for these items and other blues stuff here.

Crossroads Highway 61/49 Signs
Set of 2
Deep South, The Story of the Blues
Photo Book with 4 CDs
Shot Glasses
Set of 4


Crossroads Hoodie
Crossroads Poster
Muddy Waters Tee


Be sure to visit the Delta Blues Museum Gift Shop for additional items and memorabilia.

Delta Blues Museum Board of Directors
Jim Herring, President
Lera Kinnard, Secretary
Tom Jones
Ralph Simpson
Paul Wilson

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