Welcome to the land where blues began

Delta Blues Newsletter

July 19, 2013

Note: From the Museum Director

Summer is the high point of our year, when we welcome the most visitors. In May, we logged in attendees from 41 states and 24 countries . Those figures will grow as summer goes on, a clear record of just how much Clarksdale's Delta blues history means to so many of you. Thanks for your support, especially to those who use their vacation time to come see us!

This summer season got a really exciting kickoff in May when the Institute of Museum and Library Services named the Delta Blues Museum as a winner of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service , our nation's highest honor for museums and libraries. We are one of only five museums in the country to receive this award this year.

imls-national-award-approved-photo-Travis Calvin, Shelley Ritter and Michelle Obama

Photo Credit: Shannon Finney and IMLS

That's Travis Calvin , a graduate of our Arts and Education Program and of Delta State University where he majored in music business, and myself with First Lady Michelle Obama , who presented the award to us and to four other museums and five libraries from around the country in a ceremony at the White House on May 8. It was truly a memorable day as we got to meet the First Lady and then were served lunch in the East Wing of the White House . Following the ceremony local music aficionado/attorney Jon Norris hosted a reception at the Rock and Roll Hotel in honor of the National Medal with blues legends The Nighthawks. (Don't know the Rock and Roll Hotel , a Washington D.C. club? Their calendar includes special blues shows such as a Big Blues concert with Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, Jimbo Mathus, and Alvin Youngblood Hart. See more here.

We received much kind and generous support from our friends in the D.C. area during this trip. From the White House to the Rock n Roll Hotel , it was quite a Delta day in D.C.!

We have received congratulations on the award from many of our fans and friends, supporters and well-wishers, and notably, from our Mississippi Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker , and Representative Bennie Thompson . In these days when "the government" gets so much criticism, we should take a minute to note the support, financial and otherwise, that our federal, state, and local governmental organizations and agencies have offered to us over the years. Their assistance makes the Museum's programs and operations possible, and enables us to preserve and present the history of blues culture and you, our visitors and supporters. For example, we just received an operating grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission-- thank you! We'd also like to send congratulations to our community partner recipient, Coahoma Community College , which received a grant to support the 2013 Tennessee Williams Festival they present, held annually in October.

The National Medal award recognizes the vision and commitment of all those who have worked so hard to make the Delta Blues Museum the success story that it is today. That history is recorded on a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker that was placed on our grounds on April 11, just before the annual Juke Joint Festival .

The marker's copy describes our legacy as "the world's first museum devoted to blues, founded on January 31, 1979, by Sid Graves , director of Clarksdale's Carnegie Public Library." I had the honor of meeting Sid in 1989, and worked with him both officially and unofficially on a few projects. His vision for the museum and persistent nurturing of it-often in the face of adversity-laid the foundation for what is viewed today as Clarksdale's blues tourism industry. The marker goes on to say "exhibits here have paid long overdue tribute to the history of the blues, while the museum's education program has trained many young musicians to carry the blues into the future." That's what we do each and every day here at the Museum: activity made possible by the commitment of our dedicated staff members and with the support of our many blues fans around the world. Thank you!

Left to Right: Lee Pharr, DBM staff; Bill Gresham, DBM Board Chairman; Shelley Ritter, DBM Executive Director; Jim Herring, DBM Board Member; Howard Stovall; Chris Coleman, DBM staff

Left to Right: Lee Pharr, DBM staff; Shelley Ritter, DBM Executive Director; Maie Smith, DBM staff; Walt Busby, DBM instructor; Chris Coleman, DBM staff

You can read the full Blues Marker text about our past and current work here

Speaking of our great Museum staff . . . congratulations to Gift Shop staffers PJ Walker and Travis Calvin who graduated from Mississippi Valley State and Delta State University, respectively, and Jesse Grayson , who is entering Northwest Community College this fall.

There's more blues history at our new "Explore the New World," a review of the district of downtown Clarksdale that was the center of the Delta's African American community , where on Saturdays, farmworkers filled the streets, shopping, socializing, drinking in the jukes, and listening to blues by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Pinetop Perkins, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, and Sonny Boy Williamson. See it on our Explore & Learn Page here.

Shelley Ritter introducing author Robert Gordon.
Photo Credit: Lee Pharr

As if spring didn't have enough activity and excitement, we promoted April as "Muddy Waters Month" to honor the blues master's birthday. The celebration was marked with special events, such as a "From the Archives" book signing and lecture led by biographer Robert Gordon (below, right), author of Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters , the definitive portrait of the blues legend. (Our "From the Archives" program is made possible by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council , now celebrating its 40th year of operation.)

Photo Credit: John Howell

. . . and the day-to-day recognition we give his legacy by presenting our Muddy Waters exhibits in our new Muddy Waters Addition.

Signed copies of Lost Delta Found , a history of Clarksdale in the 1940s when Waters was discovered by Alan Lomax and John Work, co-edited by Gordon , and Can't Be Satisfied are available in our Gift Shop here. "Gordon and Nemerov have rescued an important study of black life in rural Mississippi. Work's 160 song transcriptions of field recordings form the centerpiece of this book; equally illuminating are insightful essays on plantation folklore and traditions, already fading at that time as urban influences permeated the Mississippi Delta."

We'd like to thank our sponsors: Atmos Energy, Covenant Bank, Shack Up Inn, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the Mississippi Humanities Council for making events during "Muddy Waters Month" so successful. Atmos Energy provided the tent for our Blues Trail Marker unveiling and the Coahoma County Tourism Commission provided wine for the reception.

Talking about recognition, we'd like to give a shout-out to James Cotton , one of the truly great blues legends who is still performing, and the subject of a recent feature article in The Wall Street Journal. The report describes how Cotton's latest CD, Cotton Mouth Man tells his life story in song. It features vocals by Keb' Mo', Gregg Allman, Delbert McClinton, and Ruthie Foster , and demonstrates his still-dominating gifts on harmonica. The songs trace Cotton's life and career: his boyhood in Tunica, MS ; his youthful mentoring by Sonny Boy Williamson II ; his sideman work with Howlin' Wolf and his recordings at Sun Records in Memphis in the 1950s; his joining up a teenager to join Muddy Waters in Chicago; and his career as a bandleader. (He has a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker , near Tunica.) Cotton is still performing-he played at this year's Chicago Blues Festival in the spring-catch him on the road if you can! Order the CD from our Gift Shop here

In other blues news, our friends at the American Blues Scene were the first to alert us to True Blues , an album by a group of all-stars including Taj Mahal, Corey Harris, Shemekia Copeland, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Guy Davis, and Phil Wiggins , among others, all playing traditional country blues , from its Delta roots to the present day.

Davis, Hart, and Harris are currently touring together, as a kind of contemporary acoustic blues "supergroup." This is your chance to hear songs like "Gallows Pole" or "C.C. Pill Blues" live, as they might have sounded in the 1940s as played in Delta juke joints . If you can't catch these artists out on the road, buy their CD from our Gift Shop right here Don't know American Blues Scene ? For blues music news, interviews, album reviews, and other blues notes, check them out here . Cotton Mouth Man and True Blues show that the classic blues tradition we preserve and present at the Museum continues to be very alive and very well these days.

Have you checked us out on Facebook ? Over 11,000 of our supporters "like" us. Sign up, "like" us, and join the blues talk that goes on there non-stop.

Another spring high point: reconnecting with ZZ Top in Baltimore, MD:

ZZ Top has been a longtime, major supporter of the Museum. Their contributions are spelled out in the text on our Blues Trail Marker: : "The rock band ZZ Top played a key role in raising funds for the museum in 1988. The band's guitarist, Billy Gibbons , had some "Muddywood" guitars constructed from fallen boards he found at the house where Muddy Waters once lived on the Stovall plantation. One of the guitars was displayed at Hard Rock Cafes around the world and then became a permanent exhibit at the museum. With the cooperation of the Stovall family, the home was later disassembled, restored, taken on tour by the House of Blues nightclub chain, and eventually moved to the museum."

You can see a Muddywood Guitar , the Muddy cabin , and many other Muddy artifacts in our new Muddy Waters Addition . Thanks again, ZZ Top!

PS: ZZ's Billy Gibbons also designed our enamel Highway 61 and 49 pins , the roads that meet up in Clarksdale, the famed "Crossroads" . You can order from our Gift Shop here.

We have some new neighbors in our blues tourism community: The Delta Bohemian Guest House is a "historical two-story, cypress wood, cook's home, located three blocks from downtown Clarksdale and the Museum. The DBGH is a one-of-a-kind lodging, infusing the house with a real sense of the old Mississippi Delta. It's the perfect dwelling for the traveler interested in the blues and Delta culture." The owners/founders are Billy and Madge Marley Howell, Clarksdale natives. Contact them here.

This summer we are saying a special "thank you" to active duty military families by participating in the Blue Star Museums program. Blue Star Museums is a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense , and more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission to all active duty military personnel including National Guard and Reserve and their families from Memorial Day, May 27, through Labor Day, September 2, 2013. We are proud to be part of Blue Star Museums, which gives us a chance all summer long to thank our military families for their service and share with them America's cultural treasures.

One final note: we are raising funds to expand current exhibits and develop new ones for this Addition . Please visit our Deeper Roots Campaign here. to learn more about how you can help support our mission to preserve blues culture.

It's been a great spring run-up to a great summer season-come visit us!

New Exhibits & Recent Aquisitions

"True Delta"

This photography exhibit features photos by Michael Scanlan taken from the film of the same name. Prints of these photos are available for sale. A portion of the sales proceeds go to support the DBM Arts & Education program . Check with the DBM Gift Shop for details.

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

An exhibit of posters that spans the 26 years of the annual Clarksdale event. Lots of names, lots of color, lots of archival photos - a lot of blues history in over two dozen posters.

"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-strand instruments, bottle-blowing, and banjo to spirituals, hymns, and prison work chants. The book comes with a DVD or rare film of Delta life in the early '70 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

Recent & Upcoming Events

26th Annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, August 9-10-11, 2013

The main event around here every summer is the annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival . This year's Festival, the 26th annual edition, features Bobby Rush and the North Mississippi Allstars as headliners, and 40 more bands over three days. This year's festival is dedicated to the late Melville Tillis , owner of the Rivermount Lounge (a frequent venue for the likes of Rush, Ike Turner, and Little Milton), blues historian, festival co-chairman, and friend to the Delta Blues Museum. As always, the annual celebration is free and open to the public.

June 13th: We hosted a reception for the participants in this year's Pinetop Perkins Foundation Workshop . Museum supporters and the public dropped by to meet this talented up-and-coming group of future blues musicians.

June 5th: As part of our ongoing "From the Archive Series" , we hosted a lecture and book signing by Dr. Bruce Conforth , ethnomusicologist, musician, and formerly the first curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . His new book, African American Folksong and American Cultural Politics: The Lawrence Gellert Story , describes one of the most unusual collections of African-American folk music ever amassed, and the remarkable story of the man who produced it. A decade before America's best-known song collectors, John and Alan Lomax, began recording music for the Library of Congress, Gellert made the first disc field recordings of African Americans . by adapting an old Edison phonograph. He captured hundreds of folksongs, blues, spirituals, and work songs throughout North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. His collection has been kept private for over 80 years, but is now explored in this new book. Signed copies are available from our Gift Shop here.

Recent & Upcoming Events

Photo Credit: Panny Flautt Mayfield

Arthneice "Gasman" Jones , 65, passed away May 22 at his home in Clarksdale's Riverton section. Jones was a blues harp master and leader of the Stone Gas Band that performed frequently throughout the Delta and in Memphis. His performances with guitarist Terry "Big T" Williams at the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival drew large crowds for both the music and his personal commentary.

Bobby "Blue" Bland , 83. "His vocals, punctuated by the occasional squalling shout, were restrained, exhibiting a crooner's delicacy of phrasing and a kind of intimate pleading. He influenced everyone from soul singers Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett to rock groups like the Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead , and The Band. The rapper Jay-Z sampled Bland's single "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City" on his album, "Blueprint"--The New York Times. Bland was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 1997. You can read his life story in Soul of the Man: Bobby Blue Bland by Charles Farley. Buy it, and the two CD collections of his best work at our Gift Shop here.

James Lewis Carter a.k.a. "T-Model Ford" , 89. Ford taught himself to play blues at age 58, when a departing wife left him a guitar. Ford toured Delta juke joints (including many nights at Clarksdale's Red's Lounge ) and other venues; for a while, he opened for Buddy Guy . He recorded seven albums, including three with Fat Possum Records of Oxford, MS. Ford lived an outsized version of a bluesman's life. He was also an inventive musician with a distinctive style, and a consummate showman and entertainer who had an international following. "His music would take you right back to the heart and soul of the Delta," said Clarksdale Mayor Bill Luckett , co-owner of Ground Zero Blues Club , in USA Today. T-Model's last performance was September 2012 at the Highway 61 Blues Festival in Leland. Festival founder and Highway 61 museum director Billy Johnson said, "All of the great Mississippi bluesmen, though they may vary in style, have one thing in common: can't anybody play their style or music like they can. That's what made T-Model special. He was a little Delta, a little North Mississippi hill country, with a taste of bop." The Highway 61 Blues Museum has an impressive display on Ford that includes instruments, awards, and photographs. Services for Ford will be on July 27 in Greenville. Redmon Funeral Home has charge.

Recent & Upcoming Events

The Arts and Education Program was named one of only 50 finalists nationally for a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

Teachin' the Blues: Richard Crisman aka "Daddy Rich," A&E Program Instructor

We caught up "Daddy Rich" on his way out of the DBM classroom , where he teaches in our Arts and Education Program, to talk a bit about his musical background and his work with the students to keep blues culture alive and jammin.'

DBM: What's your interest/background in the blues, and how did you earn the nickname Daddy Rich?

DR: My interest developed naturally from growing up here in the home of the blues: I was exposed to it firsthand rather than listening to recordings. I didn't even know who I was listening to, but I'm sure they were playing some originals and covering the greats. I wasn't seriously interested until I was probably 20. I started working at the DBM in 2003, putting out my album in 2005. Terry "Big T" Williams gave me the name Daddy Rich after he hired me to play my first real blues gig with him. He promised to give me $20. Apparently, most newbies on the blues scene don't actually expect to get paid, but I kept after him and he finally paid me after six months. He called me Daddy Rich then 'cuz I was so persistent.

DBM: What's your interest in teaching in the DBM Arts & Education Program? How'd you get your start here? What keeps you going?

DR: When I was 21, I worked a variety of manual labor jobs, construction and welding, and I was working in a music shop. I taught private music lessons on the side, so I had some experience teaching. When my friend Marshall Drew decided to leave town to go to college, a position opened up at the museum. He put in a good word for me, and the rest is history. I didn't know how much I would end up enjoying the experience, but I've been here for almost ten years now. Some of my students have graduated and become friends and contemporaries. It's been very fulfilling to see someone come in and not be able to play a single note, and then go on to be very successful, whether following music as a hobby or even, in some cases, a career.

DBM: Why do students join the program? How much do they know about the blues when they join?

DR: A lot of the kids join up not knowing anything about the blues. They don't even know what instrument they want to play, or they think they do and then change their minds several times. Most of the adults who join are already blues fans or at least have one particular instrument they want to learn. The kids though, they might not know anything about the blues, but then they'll realize that one of their favorite artists traces his roots straight to the blues, and they start to love it and want to learn more. Sometimes the parents want their kids to learn the music and its history, and sometimes they just need a good afterschool program to keep the kids in a safe and productive environment-those kids quickly learn that it's not a babysitting program, they have to work and they are here to learn.

DBM: What do you hope to get across to the students regarding blues culture and history?

DR: I just want them to have an understanding of the amount of hard work, dedication and time it takes to be a serious entertainer and musician. Even if it never becomes more than a hobby, I want them to have an appreciation of the place they have grown up. I want them to recognize that they live where America's music started. All the music they listen to today can trace its roots to the blues, and the blues got its start right here in the Delta.

DBM: Lastly, who seems to be the students' favorite artist to play and learn about?

DR: They like all the Kings-Albert,B.B.,Freddie-Elmore James , and of course, Muddy Waters!

DBM: What do you hope to accomplish with the program in the future?

DR: Currently, we are in the progress of expanding our history program and working to teach the kids even more about the artists than we have in the past. Musically, I want to continue as we have and keep teaching in the traditional style, by playing! We are constantly utilizing new technology too, though, because we have to keep up with the times and evolve as we go. Online resources can save us time by providing lyrics and other information so that we can spend even more time playing. We want to keep the blues alive, and want the program graduates to follow in the footsteps of the many blues legends we have lost recently.

The DBM Band's first CD, From Kansas City to Clarksdale, Vol. 1 , is available from the DBM online Store--just $10! Order your copy here

New! Muddy Waters Tees!

We are in full Muddy mode at the Gift Shop. Check out our new Muddy tees , with great images of the blues legend in performance by noted music photographer Bob Gruen , and a distinctive "Hoochie Coochie Man"/DBM logo on the front pocket area. Make your "Muddy Month" statement by wearing one of these new tees. Order yours today.

Check out the other "Muddy Merch" we offer: The Original Plantation Recordings (CD); Classic Concerts (DVD); Can't Be Satisfied, the definitive biography; Muddy "Deep Blues Blend" coffee; and a portrait/poster. View the "Muddy Merch" section in the on-line store.

We also have Highways 61 and 49 pins back in stock. Our last shipment sold out, so order now! These metal pins, designed by ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons , mark the highways that meet in Clarksdale at "The Crossroads" . And they mark the wearer as a solid blues supporter. Sold only as a set.

And now for something really new: a silver and blue metal Crossroads pin that adds a guitar to the Crossroads' Highway 61/49 signs. These pins will be collector's items, so order yours today.

Mississippi: State of Blues is a book that makes a perfect gift. With 100 large color photos of blues sites and events in and around Clarksdale, and an essay by blues historian Scott Barretta, it shows that the blues are alive and well in the Delta.

Thanks for your continued and future support!

Shelly Ritter, 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.

This site is made possible through support from the Mississippi Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rock River Foundation.

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This site made possible through the support of Mississippi Arts Commission, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rock River Foundation.

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Museum Contact information

Click here for directions
#1 Blues Alley Lane
Clarksdale, MS 38614
Phone: 662-627-6820
Email: info@deltabluesmuseum.org