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NEH Chairman visits The Delta Center to experience “The Most Southern Place on Earth”

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At the invitation of the Mississippi Humanities Council, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University hosted National Endowment for the Humanities chairman William “Bro” Adams during his recent visit to the Mississippi Delta.

The Delta Center is the home of “The Most Southern Place on Earth” workshops for K-12 educators from throughout the U.S. The workshops are funded by the NEH.

This was Adams’ first time visiting the Delta and the state of Mississippi.

“It’s really very powerful being here,” said Adams. “Seeing all of the young people in Ruleville celebrating the birthday of Fannie Lou Hamer, that was extremely impactful and shows how much this kind of work matters.”

“We are honored that the Mississippi Humanities Council brought chairman Adams to The Delta Center so that he could learn more about our ‘Most Southern’ workshops and our region,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center. “This was an excellent opportunity for him, us, and our community stakeholders to participate in an educational exchange about the historical and cultural significance of the Mississippi Delta.”

Adams started his morning at The Delta Center speaking with staff about the “Most Southern” workshops and how they’ve created an alumni network of over 500 K-12 educators across the country. These Delta ambassadors educate their students, colleagues, family members and friends about the culture and history of the region. They also have returned to the Delta as education and cultural heritage tourists.

Adams also learned about The Delta Center’s other partnership programs, including the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and the International Delta Blues Project.

National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Bro Adams views the blues marker at Dockery Farms during a recent visit to the Mississippi Delta.

National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Bro Adams views the blues marker at Dockery Farms during a recent visit to the Mississippi Delta.

Additionally, Adams was taken to various educational landmarks and cultural attractions featured in the NEH workshops. Stops included Dockery Farms, widely considered to be the birthplace of the blues; the Taborian Hospital and IT Montgomery Home in the historic black town of Mound Bayou; and Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Park in Ruleville, where community members celebrated the 99th birthday of the legendary voting rights activist.

“We thank The Delta Center for taking the chairman around the Delta on a Saturday morning,” said Dr. Stuart Rockoff, executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council. “Bro had an incredible day and was very inspired by what he experienced. The Delta Center provided a perfect start to a memorable day in the Delta. We are lucky to have such wonderful guides to the ‘Most Southern Place on Earth.’”

The morning wrapped up with an authentic Delta soul food experience at The Senator’s Place in Cleveland. The traveling group was joined by Delta State President William N. LaForge and Provost Dr. Charles McAdams, as well as Mayor Darryl Johnson of Mound Bayou and Senator Willie Simmons, owner of The Senator’s Place.

“Having the chairman for the National Endowment for the Humanities visit this morning is a wonderful experience for the Delta and for Delta State, particularly considering all of the wonderful cultural activities that are occurring in the region, ” said LaForge. “We appreciate his coming to take a firsthand look at all the work taking place in the Mississippi Delta.”

The chairman spent the afternoon and evening visiting other nationally significant Mississippi Delta landmarks, including Emmitt Till civil rights sites in Tallahatchie County and blues establishments in Clarksdale.

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 Delta Center serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place On Earth” workshops. For more information, visit http://deltacenterdsu.com/.

International Delta Blues Project, GRAMMY partner for free public film and music event

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The Delta Center’s International Delta Blues Project at Delta State University recently partnered with GRAMMY Museum Mississippi to present a free, public event of educational film and live music on Oct. 12.

The “Take Me to the River” community film screening is one of several Blues Leadership Incubator events that have been offered by the International Delta Blues Project. The incubator events focus on economic opportunity related to blues education and tourism in the Mississippi Delta. The events are free and open to the public through a generous grant from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation.

Martin Shore introduces his film "Take Me to the River."

Martin Shore introduces his film “Take Me to the River.”

Nearly 150 guests from throughout the Delta gathered at the museum to see a 45-minute version of the critically-acclaimed documentary “Take Me to the River,” produced by Martin Shore and created at historic Royal Studios in Memphis. The film brings multiple generations of award-winning Memphis and Mississippi Delta musicians together, following them through the creative process of recording a historic new album. “Take Me To The River” features Terrence Howard, William Bell, Snoop Dog, Mavis Staples, Otis Clay, Lil P-Nut, Charlie Musselwhite, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Yo Gotti, Bobby Rush, Frayser Boy, The North Mississippi Allstars and many more.

After viewing the film, the crowd enjoyed live performances from The Hi Rhythm section (featuring Charles and Leroy Hodges), Stax Music Academy Alumni Band, William Bell, Frayser Boy, Al Kapone, and GRAMMY winner Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, owner of Royal Studios. Mitchell recently served as keynote speaker for Delta State’s International Conference on the Blues during a Blues Brunch held at the museum.

According to Frayser Boy, an Academy Award winner for Best Original Song, these performances are as much about education as they are entertainment.

“I come from a hip-hop background. I never really used live music in performances before I was invited to be a part of this project,” he said. “But these guys have taught me more in a couple of years than the 15 or so previous years I was working in this business. All these old guys — these guys that have spent their lives making music — they taught me to better understand where music comes from, and how important it is to our communities. Just as importantly, they are teaching me how to make a career out of this, not just a single record. To do that, I need to know where my music comes from and why it was made the way it was made.”

To underscore the educational emphasis of the event, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area was invited to open the program with oral history documentaries created by students from Delta Hands for Hope of Shaw, Mississippi, and the Rosedale Freedom Project of Rosedale, Mississippi. The students attended after-school workshops learning film and oral history skills through a grant from the MDNHA. The students interviewed and photographed Mississippi Delta residents to learn how music has influenced their lives.

Attendees linger in the lobby of the museum and visit with the musicians following the performance.

Attendees linger in the lobby of the museum and visit with the musicians following the performance.

“The ‘Take Me To The River’ program was one of the best nights of music we’ve had at the museum,” said Jane Marie Dawkins, education and public programs manager for the museum. “The artists, film and student projects all provided a very entertaining and educational experience. It meant a lot to us to showcase this music from our region, and it was an unforgettable night at GRAMMY Museum Mississippi.”

For more information about the International Delta Blues Project, visit http://www.internationaldeltabluesproject.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 Delta Center serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place On Earth” workshops. For more information, visit http://deltacenterdsu.com/.

Delta Center, CCED participate in rural community development research panel

By | Center for Community and Economic Development, Delta Center | No Comments

A group of applied population researchers recently held their annual workshop and mini-conference in the Mississippi Delta. The meeting was part of a multi-state research project titled “The Great Recession, Its Aftermath, and Patterns of Rural and Small Town Demographic Change.”

To better understand issues of concern to rural community and health development professionals, participants engaged in an interactive panel discussion held at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center in Clarksdale.

Sixteen scholars from research institutions across the nation – including Cornell University, Penn State University, Auburn University, University of Missouri, University of Wisconsin, and the USDA Economic Research Service —joined seven of their Mississippi colleagues to present research on demographic and socioeconomic issues of concern following the Great Recession.

The group discussed strategies for better disseminating their work to the public. Additionally, they developed plans for the next five years of their work together, including their recently launched research brief series that is available online as “Population Trends in Post-Recession Rural America.” Interested readers should check the website periodically as new publications are released at http://w3001.apl.wisc.edu/.

The panel discussion was moderated and organized by Dr. John J. Green, director of the Center for Population Studies at University of Mississippi. Panelists included: Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State; Linda Stringfellow, director of the AmeriCorps VISTA Program in the Center for Community and Economic Development at Delta State; Aurelia Jones-Taylor, CEO of the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Center; and Desta Reff, Delta Clinical Fellow, a partnership between Mississippi State University and Harvard Law School.

The group of applied population researchers is associated with the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Directors. The 2016 meeting was co-hosted and co-sponsored by the University of Mississippi’s Center for Population Studies, Department of Sociology and Anthropology and McLean Institute.

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 Delta Center serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place On Earth” workshops. For more information, visit http://deltacenterdsu.com/.

“Boo” Mitchell, Cedric Burnside to headline third annual blues conference

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The Third Annual International Conference on the Blues promises to bring legendary entertainment and academics to Delta State University from Sunday, Oct. 2 through Tuesday, Oct. 4, including GRAMMY award-winner and Royal Studios owner Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell and GRAMMY nominee and four-time Blues Music Award winner Cedric Burnside.

The conference, which is still open for registration, brings together Blues scholars, historians and fans from all over the United States in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, a place known as the epicenter of Blues music and history.

Among the highlights of this year’s International Conference on the Blues:

  •  ‘Blues on the Grounds’ at Historic Dockery Farms featuring music by Jake and the Pearl Street Jumpers;
  • a keynote address by Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell;
  • a conversation and an outdoor concert in downtown Cleveland with Cedric Burnside;
  • a presentation by GRAMMY winner Dr. David Evans, leading specialist in Blues, American folk music, and popular music
  • events highlighting Blues music songwriters and performers including ‘Blues in the Round’ sponsored by Visit Mississippi;
  • and brunch on the front porch of GRAMMY Museum Mississippi

Visit here for a complete schedule of events, or here for a complete list of presenters.

“Once again, the International Conference on the Blues is advancing partnerships and engaging diverse populations toward enhancing the educational and cultural climate at Delta State and in the broader community,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, “We appreciate the involvement and support of various local, statewide, and national organizations including the Robert M. Hearin Foundation, the Dockery Farms Foundation, Entergy, Visit Mississippi, Nehi Bottling Company, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, Bridging the Blues, Levitt AMP Series, and others that are making this great conference possible for a third year.”

The third annual conference is part of the International Delta Blues Project, which is funded by the Robert M. Hearin Foundation and is based at The Delta Center for Culture and Learning. The conference is being managed by a team of campus and community collaborators including the Delta Music Institute, the Department of Music, the Division of Languages & Literature, the Office of Institutional Grants, and Cleveland Tourism.

“I always marvel at the variety of scholars that our conference attracts,” said Dr. Shelley Collins, a professor in the Department of Music and co-chair of the International Conference on the Blues. “Either our presenters are alums of these schools, graduate students at these universities, or teach at the following institutions: The University of Pittsburgh, University of Washington, Alcorn State University, BYU, Vanderbilt University, University of California Berkeley, Stanford University, Marist College, the University of Memphis, the University of London, the University of Oregon, Stanford University, The University of Idaho, Washington State University, The Ohio State University, and Loyola University of New Orleans. We will even have a participant coming in from Singapore, which gives you an idea of how globally influential the Blues is.”

Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell began working with his father, producer and Royal Studios founder Willie Mitchell, at a young age, accumulating rare credits and abilities. His own career began at age 17 when he played keyboard on one of Al Green‘s gospel albums which later won a Grammy Award. In the early 90’s he began a role as a producer and engineer with credits on albums by artists such as John Mayer, Rod Stewart, Anthony Hamilton, Solomon Burke, William Bell and Cody Chestnutt, among others. After Willie’s death in 2010, Boo and his brother Archie continued their father’s legacy as owners of Royal Studios while maintaining their roles as producers and engineers. In 2016 his work as engineer / mixer on Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ hit “Uptown Funk” was recognized with a GRAMMY award for Record of the Year.

“Personally, Mr. Boo Mitchell defines cool for me,” said Don Allan Mitchell, co-chair of the conference. “I’ve met him on a couple of occasions, and he is so modest about his work. It still blows my mind when I see the clips of him on the GRAMMY stage with Bruno Mars. His keynote speech may well be his first formal academic address on the importance of the Blues in the American tradition, but I know he’ll perform like the consummate professional he is, with a quiet-spoken confidence and a wry sense of humor. It’s great to have him back in Cleveland.”

Grammy-nominee Cedric Burnside was born and raised around Holly Springs, Mississippi. He is the grandson of legendary R.L. Burnside and son of drummer Calvin Jackson. This four-time winner of the prestigious Blues Music Award’s Drummer of the Year (2010-2014) is widely regarded as one of the best drummers in the world and has begun to make a name for himself as a traditional blues guitarist as well. In addition to his grandfather R.L, Cedric has also played and recorded with countless musicians, including Junior Kimbrough, Kenny Brown, North Mississippi Allstars, Burnside Exploration, Widespread Panic, Jimmy Buffett, T Model Ford, Bobby Rush, Honey Boy Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, Galactic, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, among many others. In 2006, he was featured in Craig Brewer’s critically acclaimed feature film Black Snake Moan, playing drums alongside Samuel L. Jackson. (The film is a loose tribute to R.L. Burnside, and gives many nods to the late bluesman.) The Cedric Burnside Project’s latest album, Descendants of Hill Country, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Blues Album of the Year.

Burnside will perform an outdoor concert Monday night, and Monday morning will be interviewed by Don Allan Mitchell.

“Because of the GRAMMY-nomination, Mr. Burnside is in high demand as a performer this year, and I look forward to talking to him about his life on the road, and how the GRAMMY-nomination has influenced his career trajectory,” said Mitchell. “Hill Country Blues is a cousin of Mississippi Delta Blues, so it will be interesting to discuss the cross-influence with him. The International Conference on the Blues-sponsored Levitt Amp Performance on Monday night will be a great opportunity for our students and fellow Clevelanders to get their ‘full tilt boogie’ on. ”

This year’s conference promises to build on the vision established for the event when it began two years ago, and is a key component to Delta State’s pursuit of building a premiere curriculum around the art, culture, history and heritage of the Mississippi Delta.

“I am looking forward to the renewal of this fall signature conference on the blues, because it reinforces Delta State’s claim as the academic center of the blues,” said Delta State University President William N. LaForge. “It’s always exciting to hear the presentations and performances that highlight our conference. I know this October’s schedule, like those in the past that have been so successful, will not disappoint. I look forward to participating with all the visiting blues scholars and our faculty, staff and students during what will certainly be a wonderful program.

For more information, please contact Mitchell and Collins at blues@deltastate.edu.

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 Delta Center is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/

Unita Blackwell marker added to Mississippi Freedom Trail

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The Issaquena County town of Mayersville recently honored one of it’s bravest citizens, former mayor Unita Blackwell, with a Mississippi Freedom Trail marker dedicated to her.

The marker was unveiled during a ceremony that attracted a gathering of local residents, as well as regional, statewide, and national leaders at the Mayersville Multi Purpose Building. Blackwell was the first female African-American elected mayor in Mississippi.

In addition to serving as mayor for 27 years, Blackwell was active in the Civil Rights Movement, Head Start and the Democratic Party for nearly five decades. In 1993, she was awarded a Genius Grant as a MacArthur Fellow. Since 1973, she has been a part of 16 diplomatic missions to China.

JoAnne Prichard Morris shares thoughts about Unita Blackwell.

JoAnne Prichard Morris shares thoughts about Unita Blackwell.

“The notion is that somebody from very, very humble beginnings cannot only rise to be the mayor of her community, but to take delegations all over the world as a goodwill ambassador, to work for childcare, work for better education, is a statement that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s where you’re going,” said Congressman Bennie Thompson, U.S. Representative for Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District.

Blackwell was born in Lula, Mississippi in 1933. Her parents Virda Mae and Willie Brown were sharecroppers. She married Jeremiah Blackwell in 1958, and in 1960, they moved into a shotgun house in Mayersville inherited from Jeremiah’s grandmother. It was here that Blackwell became involved in politics, civil rights and a life of building a stronger community for all.

“She just kept on going and learning and experiencing new things,” said JoAnne Prichard Morris, who assisted Blackwell in writing her autobiography “Barefootin’: Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom.” “She was quite simply the most courageous, most creative, most inspiring, smartest, funniest person I’ve ever known.”

The Mississippi Freedom Trail was created in 2011 to commemorate the people and places in the state that played a pivotal role in the American Civil Rights Movement. The first Freedom Trail markers were unveiled in conjunction with the Mississippi Freedom 50th Foundation’s 2011 reunion activities for the 1961 Freedom Riders. The Blackwell marker is the 22nd placed in the state, and was supported in part by partnership development funds from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area in conjunction with support from Visit Mississippi, the Town of Mayersville and Mississippi’s Lower Delta Partnership.

“The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is about telling significant stories here in our region, and the story of Unita Blackwell truly is a significant story,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, Director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, the management entity for the MDNHA. “The fact that the MDNHA could support this marker being installed here for ages to come so that the people of Mayersville – particularly the youth – can learn about her story and her legacy, truly is a great asset to the community and to our region.”

An attendee looks at a brochure illustrating the locations of the thirty-plus Freedom Trail markers.

An attendee looks at a brochure illustrating the locations of more than 30 Freedom Trail markers.

The MDNHA includes 18 counties that contain land located in the alluvial floodplain of the Mississippi Delta: Bolivar, Carroll, Coahoma, DeSoto, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Leflore, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tunica, Warren, Washington and Yazoo. The MDNHA was designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and is governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the congressional legislation. More information about the MDNHA, including the complete approved management plan, is available at www.msdeltaheritage.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 Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place On Earth” workshops. For more information, visit http://deltacenterdsu.com/.