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Delta Blues Newsletter

December 23, 2014

Note: From the Museum Director

It's holiday season, the time of the year we pause to give thanks. We'd like to thank you, the Delta Blues Museum's visitors, supporters, and Facebook fans for helping us preserve and present the history of the Delta Blues and the artists who created the music. We're come a long way from the early days in a back room of the Carnegie Library, and from our move in 1999 into the historic Illinois Central railroad depot to our new Muddy Waters Addition that has doubled our gallery space. Support and gifts from many of you have helped make this growth possible.

The new Muddy Waters Addition

Speaking of gifts . . . the DBM Band is one of 12 recipients of a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Five members of the band were invited to perform at the White House for the award ceremony.

This makes the second trip to the White House for the Delta Blues Museum, which was honored last year with a National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation's highest honor for museums and libraries.

First Lady Michelle Obama, DBM Band member Cristin "Kingfish" Ingram,
and DBM Director Shelley Ritter

DBM Band performing at the White House for National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Ceremony


The band played "Sweet Home Chicago" for First Lady Michelle Obama, a native Chicagoan, and the members of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Each band member got a high five from the First Lady after their performance, which received a standing ovation from the audience.

Just before we traveled to Washington D.C. for the Youth Program Award, we received recognition from the AIA Mississippi for the "Design Excellence" of our new Muddy Waters Addition, given out at the "Mississippi Celebrates Architecture Design" event held in Jackson, MS.

We also received a Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor for outstanding feedback from Trip Advisor travelers. Thanks to all who wrote us up so nicely!

More awards . . . I traveled to Dubrovnik, Croatia in September, as one of only two U.S. museums, along with others from 32 countries invited to participate in the Best in Heritage Conference, held under the special patronage of the International Council of Museum, supported by the Ministry of Culture of Croatia and the City of Dubrovnik, and organized in partnership with Europa Nostra.

Starting 12 years ago, the European Heritage Association began inviting museum, heritage and conservation projects that received awards in the past year to make presentations as examples of professional excellence and to share best practices. Each invitee spoke about their museum; the presentations were followed by Q&A sessions and panel discussions. I spoke about the DBM, our National Medal, and our plans for new permanent exhibits. I heard some good ideas about disaster preparedness and recovery from Christchurch Art Gallery, New Zealand. Many Thanks to MDA Tourism for sponsoring my participation.

I also traveled to Seattle in May to the American Association of Museums annual conference. I toured the Wing Luke Museum and the Bellevue Art Museum, and attended receptions at the Bill and Melinda Gates Center, the Northwest African American Museum, and the Experience Music Project (you may remember the "Sweet Home Chicago" exhibit we hosted in 2005-6 that came from EMP). I also presented in the session, "Small Museums: Big Changes." (That sure describes our Delta Blues Museum!)

Actually, I've "rambled" like a blues musician all year, representing the Museum and promoting our mission and activities. I traveled to: * Jackson, MS for the Mississippi Historical Society's annual meeting. I sat on a panel with Malcom White, Executive Director of MDA Tourism and Malika Polk-Lee, chief administrative officer for the B.B. King Museum to discuss our museums, the arts, and music trails.

Greenwood, MS where I spoke to the Rotary Club. I also met with Cheryl Taylor, Director of the Museum of the Mississippi Delta.

* West Memphis, AR to pick up our Mississippi River Parkway Interpretive Center marker

* Memphis, TN where I attended the Blues Music Awards event.

* Helena, AR to celebrate Sonny Payne's 17,000th broadcast of "King Biscuit Time" on KFFA radio.

My travels reminded me of just how much the world outside the Delta appreciates Delta blues, the music and the history. Through my presentations, I was also made aware of how many were hearing our story for the first time, and how enthusiastic were their responses.

The word about the Museum is getting around: May saw the largest visitorship in the 11 years I have served as Director.

Lots of you are finding us on Facebook: 14,509 to be exact. Join up, if you haven't already.

We had some notable visitors during the last few months. Miss Mississippi, Chelsea Rick, toured the Museum and observed the Arts and Education program, and then shared her vocal talent with us. Thanks to DBM Board Member Tom Jones for arranging the visit.

Senator Thad Cochran stopped by.

Pictured: DBM Maintenance Manager Anthony Saffold; Chelsea Ricks, Miss Mississippi

Musicians continue to visit and to support us. Steve Miller of Steve Miller Band fame ("The Joker") stopped in. On his current tour, Miller tells audiences about visiting us, suggesting that his fans should check out the "ever-improving" Museum. Miller is a DBM supporter through his Miller Foundation. Thanks, Steve! (Blues note: he was taught to play guitar by T-Bone Walker at the age of nine!)

Joe Bonamassa visited the Museum and pledged a donation from his Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation. Thanks, Joe!

Our work is not complete until you visit. It's your support that makes our work possible, so thanks to all who visit, who subscribe to this newsletter, who "like" our Facebook page, and who love the blues.

It's the end of the year, when many of you make gifts to organizations you love. If you love the Delta blues, please consider a donation to the Museum. Your financial support helps us preserve the music and its history for future generations of blues lovers. We'd appreciate any gift, no matter how small.


Thanks for your continued and future support!

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.


"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

"In the Belly of the Blues"

"In the Belly of the Blues," an exhibit of photographs and a book by Terry Abrahamson, covers his time in Chicago, Boston, and LA, 1969-1983. He wrote songs, travelled with, and photographed Muddy Waters and other blues musicians, and those they influenced, such as George Thorogood and The Rolling Stones. Signed copies of the book are available from our Gift Shop: click here.

Pictured: Muddy Waters and Keith Richards
Photo Credit: Terry Abrahamson


"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 photos-a lot of blues history in a collection of Festival ephemera.

"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.

"Portraits of Son House" by Dick Waterman

The music photographer who helped rediscover House in the '60s and who managed his concerts during that era's blues revival. For more on House, see our "Follow Son House" Explore & Learn section of our website: click here.


April was "Muddy" Month

On April 4th, we celebrated Muddy Waters' birthday, with complimentary cupcakes and lemonade for all visitors. Thanks to our sponsors: Shack Up Inn, Barnes Petty Financial, Walmart, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

During Juke Joint Festival in April, we presented Matthew Keeler speaking about the life and music of Bessie Smith, followed by "Call and Response - Conversations in the Blues," led by blues artist and educator Big Jon Short and native Mississippi blues artists Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, Terry "Harmonica" Bean, and Leo "Bud" Welch. They spoke about their influences and experiences growing up around the Delta, living and playing the blues.

We hosted musician and scholar Stephen Wade in a conversation on "The Beautiful Music All Around Us," based on his work of the same name. A book signing followed the presentation.

The Museum hosted Tom Graves, award-winning author of Crossroads: The Life & Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson. Graves presented a multimedia program on the life and myth surrounding the legendary musician, his talent, and his death. He compared his book to older publications on the same subject, dispelling many myths while teaching the audience much about Robert Johnson, the person. After the presentation, Graves hosted a book signing. Signed copies are available from our online store.

Terry Abrahamson gave a talk on "In the Belly of the Blues", his exhibit of photographs of musicians

Thomas Armstrong, civil rights scholar and author, offered a presentation based on his book, Autobiography of a Freedom Rider: My Life as a Foot Soldier for Civil Rights.


The Mississippi Foundation for Public Broadcasting hosted a "Meet and Greet" at the Museum. Supporters of MPB from around the Delta attended the event.

The Pinetop Perkins Foundation hosted a reception for their board and their Master Class students.

A reception for Billy Johnson's "Gone but Not Forgotten" photos (see "Exhibits") was well-attended.

The 27th Annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival was held on the Museum grounds. This year's festival was a tribute to Big Jack Johnson.

The Northwest Regional Medical Center hosted receptions, a retirement party for Dr. Pat Burke and a welcoming reception for a new Internal Medicine Physician.

DBM events were covered by a range of local and national media, including MPB Think Radio, the Clarion-Ledger, the Press-Register and online music news site, among others.


We are saddened to report that former board member, Dr. Frank Marascalco, has passed. "Dr. Frank" joined the board during the museum's transition from being a part of the Carnegie Public Library to a stand-alone institution, serving until 2012. He first heard the blues while growing up in Grenada, MS, and developed a love for the music and deep respect for the musicians. His first board duties were to help create the educational offerings. He took his responsibilities so seriously that he enrolled in the Arts & Education classes, where he honed his guitar skills and learned to play the music he loved. Dr. Frank educated his patients about the importance of the museum to the community. He rarely missed a board meeting or a museum event. His support for the museum is evident in our continued growth and success. The Museum is honored that the Marascalco family has requested memorials be made to the Delta Blues Museum in his memory. Through these and other gifts, we hope to maintain his legacy and vision.


Teachin' the Blues: Walt Busby, A&E Program Instructor

Walt Busby has been an instructor with the Museum's Arts & Education program for a couple of years. This summer he took over as Head Instructor for Richard "Daddy Rich" Crisman, who, after his ten-year stint as a teacher in the program, has become our Gift Shop Manager. We wanted to let our fans know a little more about Walt, his goals for the program, his thoughts on the program's role in the community, and what he loves about teaching the students. Lee Pharr, until recently a DBM staff curator (congrats on marriage and the new job in Jackson, Lee!), talked with Walt about the A&E Program.

Photo Credit: Lee Pharr

DBM: What do you think brings the students to join the program, and how much does the average student know about the blues when he or she first signs up?

WB: When they arrive in our class, they have very little idea of what blues is at all. Most of them have only heard the name B.B. King here and there. I feel like it's an honor to introduce them to the world of the blues and help them understand why our town is so important to music history.

DBM: Who are some of the students' favorite musicians to learn about, or whose music do they enjoy the most?

WB: Most of them, especially the younger ones, have never really listened to much blues. They quickly become fascinated by the stories and the fact that it all started here. They particularly like hearing about Muddy Waters and being able to walk into the museum and seeing his cabin. Also, some of Muddy's music is fairly simple to learn, so it's a perfect way for beginners to get introduced and excited about the genre.

DBM: What future goals do you have for the program, and what past achievements are you most proud of?

WB: I would like the students to have more of a well-rounded idea of what it takes to be a musician. Just standing on stage and playing the notes isn't enough. I would like more experienced artists to come to our class and talk with the kids and tell them stories about how they got where they are in the music world. The most rewarding achievement for me is always standing backstage at a festival watching a group of students (who only a year before knew nothing about blues) give a great performance.

DBM: What's your interest/background in the blues, and how did you get your start playing music?

WB: As a teenager, most of my friends were already playing music. Being a huge music fan myself, I felt like picking up the guitar was the most logical thing to do. Within and year or two of obsessive bedroom practicing, I was playing in bands at festivals and local bars. It was mostly old rock and roll music. I didn't start playing the blues till I was in my 20s. I was asked to sit in with some local blues bands, and even though I could play all the licks, the feeling just wasn't there. So I went to lots of shows and studied blues guitarists to try and wrap my head around that "blues sound" that inspired all the artists I grew up listening to. I feel like all rock players should take that journey at some point.

DBM: How did you become involved with the DBM Arts and Ed Program? How long have you been a teacher here?

WB: Several of the people who inspired me and influenced the way I play were teachers here before me. Some include Dr. Mike, Marshall Drew, Big T. and Daddy Rich. Rich has been a friend of mine since junior high school. About two and a half years ago, he asked if I wouldn't mind helping him out as a teacher. I hesitated at first because I had NO experience teaching anybody, let alone an entire class. But after some thought and about sixty more calls from Rich, I decided to give it a shot. I'm so very glad I did. This has been a very rewarding job and I look forward to it every day.

DBM: What is your favorite thing about teaching here? What keeps you going after a tough class?

WB: I love playing music more than anything in the world. Now I get to share what I love with people on a daily basis who might not have discovered their talent and love for music on their own. After a rough day in class, I can always think to myself, "we just made music together. No matter how tough it was, I can't think of a better way to live life."

DBM Band rehearses in the classroom.
Photo Credit: Lee Pharr

DBM: What music really influenced you personally and what Delta Blues Artists do you particularly like?

WB: I grew up listening to rock music from the '60s and '70s. Bands like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and others. All of these artists were heavily influenced by musicians from right here in the Delta. In order to really understand them, I had to listen to a lot of Albert King, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf. I know these artists don't technically play that old Delta blues style like Son House or Robert Johnson, but they are the foundation of everything I listen to today.

DBM: Are you excited about the Arts & Education Program winning a National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award, and what do you think makes us deserving of the award compared to other nominees?

WB: Yes I'm quite excited! I believe we deserve the award because to me we are more than just an afterschool program. Not only do we give kids a chance to learn and do something special, we are helping the blues stay alive and fresh. Our town is now swarming with up and coming blues musicians, and a big number of them came straight from our class. They will be the next generation of blues men and women that help keep the genre thriving.

The DBM Band's second CD, From Kansas City to Clarksdale, Vol. 2, features classics like "Big Boss Man," "Born Under a Bad Sign," "Key to the Highway," "Stormy Monday," and "Jumper on the Line." Guest artist Kenny Brown leads a group workout on "Kenny Brown Jam," and Bill Abel guides the revival of the diddley bow drone on "Return of the One String Blues." The CD is available from the DBM online Store: just $10! Order here.

Major Thanks Note: Congratulations to Charlie Musselwhite and his band, whose latest CD, Juke Joint Chapel, has been nominated for a Grammy award. Juke Joint Chapel was recorded recorded in Clarksdale at the Shack Up Inn. The performance was a benefit for the Arts & Education Program. Thanks Charlie and band! You can order the CD here. Order here.


Great Gifts! Special Souvenirs! DBM Logo Items!

Hoodies, Tees, Posters, Signs, Guitar Picks, and more: visit our online store.

All sales support our programs.

Muddy Waters Gift Basket
DBM Shot Glasses
Set of 4
Crossroads Gift Basket


Crossroads Poster
Monster Guitar Picks
Set of 2
MS Blues Musicians Map


Crossroads Hoodie with DBM Logo
Home of the Blues Tee
Long Sleeve Crossroads Tee

DBM Street Sign

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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