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Blues legend B.B. King, Mississippi's Secretary of  State of the Blues, surrounded by friends and admirers at the dedication of the "Kilmichael: B.B. King's Roots" Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Aug. 21, 2012 in Kilmichael, Miss. 

(Photo credit: Mississippi Blues Commission)

Mississippi Blues Commission names B.B. King Secretary of State of the Blues

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The Mississippi Blues Commission has designated music legend B.B. King as Mississippi’s Secretary of State of the Blues. One of the most renowned musicians in the world, King passed away in May of 2015.

Mississippi is the first and only state to recognize the contributions of a musician in this manner. The commission will be presenting the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center with a resolution for this recognition signed by Gov. Phil Bryant and the four living previous governors of Mississippi: Gov. William F. Winter, 1984-1988; Gov. Ray Mabus, 1988-1992; Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, 2000-2004; and Gov. Haley Barbour, 2004-2012. The resolution will be part of the permanent collection at the B.B. King Museum & Interpretive Center in Indianola, Miss.

The resolution will be presented at the International Conference on the Blues at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. The conference, presented by the International Delta Blues Project and a diverse array of regional partners, includes a Blues Brunch featuring a panel discussion moderated by noted blues scholar Dr. William Ferris and comprised of members of the Mississippi Blues Commission. Blues legends Bobby Rush and James “Super Chikan” Johnson will also be in attendance. The presentation of the resolution will take place during the conference’s brunch event on Oct. 6 at 9:30 a.m. in the Delta Music Institute on Delta State’s campus.

“On behalf of the entire Mississippi Blues Commission, it is a privilege to honor B.B. King as our Mississippi Secretary of State of the Blues,” said J. Kempf Poole, chairman of the Mississippi Blues Commission. “Mr. King is one of Mississippi’s most influential sons, and with this designation I am proud to say that B.B. King has taken his rightful place at the head of the blues table.”

Known worldwide as “The King of the Blues,” King was considered one of the most influential musicians of all time. His artistic contributions and accolades are numerous and span decades. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the R&B Music Hall of Fame, King received more than a dozen GRAMMY Awards between 1970-2010, including the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award and a GRAMMY Hall of Fame Award for his historically significant recording “The Thrill is Gone.”

During the 1990s, he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Medal of Arts, and the Kennedy Center Honors. During the 2000s, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music awarded him the Polar Music Prize, and President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A recipient of honorary doctorate degrees from Tougaloo College, Yale University and Brown University, King was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as No. 6 on its 2011 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

“Mississippi is known the world over as the birthplace of America’s music, and B.B. King is one of its founding legends and one of our state’s most treasured gifts to the music world,” said Gov. Phil Bryant. “For decades, our souls have been stirred by his talents. From juke joints to concert halls, there is no place his influence hasn’t reached. Deborah and I are saddened by B.B.’s passing. Mississippi has lost a legend. He is the king. The thrill is gone.”

Former Gov. Haley Barbour echoed Bryant’s sentiments.

“B.B. King was a wonderful ambassador for Mississippi,” said Barbour. “The King of the Blues never forgot Mississippi was home, and he graced us often with his presence. He will be missed. Marsha and I had him for lunch at the Governor’s Mansion on a day he was honored by the legislature. He was warm and delightful, but I will never forget how he gave credit to the people that had helped him throughout his career. He had a big heart as well as big talent.”

The Mississippi Blues Commission is a body of 18 appointed commissioners representing major organizations and geographic/political regions supporting blues initiatives throughout the state. One of the commission’s major projects is ongoing governance of the Mississippi Blues Trail, which began unofficially with two preliminary markers placed in Indianola, which King adopted as his hometown. Highlighting the importance of his contributions, the first marker was placed at a corner where King played as a young man. The other was placed at historic Club Ebony, which is now part of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.

An emotional King is surrounded by Mississippi legislators in Jackso, Miss. as he is presented with a concurrent resolution naming Feb. 15, 200, as B.B. King Day.  (Photo credit: Mississippi Blues Commission)

An emotional King is surrounded by Mississippi legislators in Jackson, Miss. as he is presented with a concurrent resolution naming Feb. 15, 2005, as B.B. King Day.
(Photo credit: Mississippi Blues Commission)

Continuous expansion of the Mississippi Blues Trail throughout the state, country and the world is a testament to the global influence of blues music and culture. The Mississippi Blues Trail consists of more than 170 markers throughout the state. There also are 14 out-of-state Blues Trail markers, two of which are located outside of the U.S. — one in Norway, commemorating the Notodden Blues Festival, and the other in France, commemorating the Cahors Blues Festival.

“Local and global tourism and cultural heritage influences of the Mississippi Blues Trail will be discussed during the Blues Brunch at the International Conference on the Blues,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, a member of the Blues Commission, and director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. “Members of the commission will participate in a panel discussion moderated by Mississippi Delta native and blues and southern studies expert Dr. Bill Ferris from UNC Chapel Hill. This is an appropriate venue for the Mississippi Blues Commission to pay homage to B.B. King, a local hero whose musicianship and life achievements have helped to put the Mississippi Delta on the international map as a blues heritage destination.”

The Mississippi Blues Trail has been made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, AT&T, and the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University. The program is housed within and managed by the Mississippi Development Authority’s Visit Mississippi.

For more information, contact Mary Margaret Miller, bureau manager for Creative Economy & Culture at Visit Mississippi, at mmmiller@mississippi.org or 601-213-7300.

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/.

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International Conference on the Blues brings musicians, music scholars to campus

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The Second Annual International Conference on the Blues promises to bring legendary entertainment and academics to Delta State University on Monday, Oct. 5 and Tuesday, Oct. 6, including GRAMMY award-winning Blues artist Dom Flemons, former National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Dr. William Ferris, an historic statewide proclamation honoring B.B. King and a free performance from GRAMMY-nominated Blues musician Bobby Rush and Mississippi Governor’s Award-winning Blues musician James “Super Chikan” Johnson.

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 Blues conference:
* the bestowing of a statewide proclamation signed by all five living Mississippi governors designating B.B. King as the “Mississippi’s Secretary of State of the Blues”;
* a keynote address by Blues scholar and Southern culture historian Dr. William Ferris of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill;
* a master class and performance from GRAMMY winner Dom Flemons, known as the “American Songster”;
* events highlighting Blues music songwriters and performers including ‘Blues in the Round’ sponsored by Visit Mississippi;
* and “The Storytellers featuring Bobby Rush and Super Chikan: Up Close and Personal”, a free public concert sponsored by the International Delta Blues Project and the Bologna Performing Arts Center.

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

“This year’s International Conference on the Blues represents the power of the Blues to strengthen partnerships and to engage diverse communities on local, regional, national, and global scales,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning. “We appreciate the generous support of the Robert M. Hearin Foundation and other organizations that are making this conference possible, including Visit Mississippi, Entergy, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, Bridging the Blues, Mississippi Blues Commission, BPAC, Mississippi Grounds, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, the Dockery Farms Foundation and several other sponsors and partners. Through these relationships, Delta State University is empowered to offer an unparalleled educational and cultural experience to its students, faculty, and staff, as well as Delta residents and visitors.”

The second 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 North Carolina at Chapel Hill, George Washington University, The University of North Texas, the Lionel Hampton School of Music at the University of Idaho, the University of Oregon, Indiana University, Loyola University of New Orleans, Columbus State University, the New York City Public Schools, and Perm State University in Russia.”

Flemons who is known the “American Songster,” has performed music professionally since 2005 and has played live for over one million people just within the past three years. As part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he co-founded with Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson, he has played at a variety of festivals spanning from the Newport Folk Festival to Bonnaroo, in addition to renowned venues such as the Grand Ole Opry.

Ferris, a widely recognized leader in Southern studies, African American music, and folklore, is the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the senior associate director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South. He is also adjunct professor in the curriculum on folklore.

The former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ferris has conducted thousands of interviews with musicians ranging from the famous (B.B. King) to the unrecognized (Parchman Penitentiary inmates working in the fields). He has written or edited 10 books and created 15 documentary films.

“Bill Ferris is a personal hero of mine,” said Don Allan Mitchell, interim chair of the Division of Languages & Literature and co-chair of the International Conference on the Blues. “Every Blues class I teach, I have my students read his groundbreaking Blues from the Delta book, which is an essential text for any Blues scholar or fan.”

Mitchell said the appearance by Flemons expected to be an exciting part of the conference.

“Dom Flemons is known for his work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, but he is also a walking American songbook, and his knowledge and expertise in playing the country Blues and classic Blues is phenomenal,” Mitchell said.

This year’s conference promises to build on the vision established for the event when it began last year, Mitchell added.

“We hope to establish a long-term and sustainable Blues musicology conference, and we especially want to foster the next generation of emerging scholars of the African American Blues tradition,” he said. “Yes, the Mississippi Delta has a legacy tied to the Delta Blues, but the Blues has become a world-wide music, and we want to examine all genres of the Blues and its ever-present global influence. We know that Cleveland & Delta State prides itself on hospitality, so we think we are a perfect place to host such scholarly dialogues.”

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/.

Roger Stolle will present a lecture on blues entrepreneurship and the Mississippi Delta’s creative economy as part of Delta State University’s International Conference on the Blues Oct. 1 at 5:30 p.m. at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center.

Stolle to present blues lecture in Clarksdale

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Roger Stolle, owner of Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art in Clarksdale, Miss,, will present a lecture on blues entrepreneurship and the Mississippi Delta’s creative economy as part of Delta State University’s International Conference on the Blues.

The pre-conference lecture event will take place Oct. 1 at 5:30 p.m. at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center, a Delta State satellite campus located at 109 Clark St. in Clarksdale. The lecture is free and open to the public through a partnership between CCHEC and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, which is the home of the International Delta Blues Project.

“I am so pleased to be working with the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University to offer this lecture at the CCHEC campus,” said Jen Waller, director of the Coahoma County Higher Education Center. “Roger Stolle has been a blessing to the Clarksdale community for years. He has used his passion, drive and skillset to promote the music that he loves. His story is inspiring and certainly worth listening to.”

The International Delta Blues Project features three components: the International Conference on the Blues, which will take place at Delta State’s main campus in Cleveland on Oct. 5-6; the Blues Studies minor, which has launched this fall semester at Delta State; and the Blues Leadership Incubator, which focuses on blues and economic development.

Stolle’s lecture represents one in a series of lectures and workshops that are part of the Blues Leadership Incubator. These lectures and workshops are designed to provide the public with a deeper understanding of the Mississippi Delta’s creative economy.

“Delta State is a regional institution that serves the Mississippi Delta through educational, cultural and economic development,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center. “This lecture will provide an opportunity for the Clarksdale community to learn more about how the International Delta Blues Project is doing this by engaging accomplished creative economy professionals like Roger Stolle to share their knowledge and expertise with Delta communities.”

After a successful 13-year marketing career in corporate America, Stolle moved to Clarksdale in 2002 to “organize and promote the blues from within.” He is the author of the book “Hidden History of Mississippi Blues” and co-producer of the films “M for Mississippi” and “We Juke Up in Here.” He co-founded several Clarksdale based music and cultural festivals including the Juke Joint Festival, the Clarksdale Film Festival, the Clarksdale Caravan Music Fest, and the Delta Busking Festival. He is also the recipient of the Keeping The Blues Alive Award and the Blues Music Award from the Blues Foundation.

“We in Mississippi — especially Clarksdale — were building a creative economy before there was even a name for it,” said Stolle. “When I moved to Clarksdale 13 years ago, we had live blues just two nights a week, one festival per year and one museum. Today, we have live blues seven nights a week, over half a dozen festivals and two museums. We also have a dozen new businesses downtown and at least 150 additional hotel rooms.”

Don Allan Mitchell, co-chair of the blues conference, and a Delta State professor, is excited to add Stolle to the conference schedule.

“Mr. Stolle’s bold business decision to open up Cat Head in 2002 is exactly the visionary, entrepreneurial thinking that we know will inspire our students at Delta State, as well as our wider Delta Community,” said Mitchell. “It is an honor that Roger is so supportive of the conference.”

In addition to catalyzing Clarksdale’s revitalization through blues music and culture, Stolle is a highly sought after marketing, public relations, and artist booking expert both locally and globally. He has worked with a wide array of clients including the Mississippi Blues Trail, and many blues record labels, festivals, and non-profit organizations.

He has also booked Mississippi bluesmen on numerous festivals and tours — taking Delta legends such as Big George Brock, James “T-Model” Ford and Robert “Bilbo” Walker to countries like Italy, Switzerland, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Brazil.

To register for attendance at Stolle’s lecture and for more information, contact Jen Waller via email at jwaller@deltastate.edu or phone at 662-645-3555.

To register for the International Conference on the Blues, visit the conference website at http://www.deltastate.edu/president/international-blues-conference/.

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/.

Performer Dorothy Moore wows the crowd at the "Blues Got A Soul" Technology Conference sponsored by the Jus Blues Music Foundation on July 31 at the Horseshoe Casino & Hotel in Tunica, Miss.

Delta Center presents at Jus Blues Conference

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Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, recently gave a presentation at the “Blues Got A Soul” Technology Conference sponsored by the Jus Blues Music Foundation. The conference was held July 31, at the Horseshoe Casino & Hotel in Tunica, Miss.

The purpose of the conference was to share information, resources and emerging opportunities related to the blues music industry. Herts’ presentation, titled “Blues in the Delta: Tourism, Education, and the Creative Economy,” provided an overview of The Delta Center’s work with the International Delta Blues Project, the Mississippi Blues Commission and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area.

“I invited Dr. Herts to present at the conference because people in the blues industry need to know about the important work that The Delta Center and Delta State University are doing,” said Charles Mitchell, director of the Jus Blues Music Foundation. “Dr. Herts talked about Delta State’s International Conference on the Blues that is coming up in October. He also talked about the Mississippi Blues Trail and the Benevolent Fund that provides support to musicians who have kept the blues alive.

“The Blues has contributed so much to our world artistically and economically. Our conference attendees were glad to learn that Mississippi has such a fund available. Many of these artists are aging and in poor health. Some have gotten bad financial advice during their careers. Sources of financial assistance like this are critical to our industry.”

Conference presenters included (l to r) Jonathan Mason; Allen Johnston; professor Sandra "SANA" Foster; Charles Mitchell, director of the Jus Blues Foundation; Dr. Rolando Herts; and Rojene Bailey.

Conference presenters included (l to r) Jonathan Mason; Allen Johnston; professor Sandra “SANA” Foster; Charles Mitchell, director of the Jus Blues Foundation; Dr. Rolando Herts; and Rojene Bailey.

Other topics discussed at the conference included legal concerns for musicians, international opportunities for blues artists, blues radio syndication formats, and history and social healing purposes of the blues. Presenters included professor Sandra “SANA” Foster of Clark Atlanta University, entertainment attorney Jonathan Mason, radio personality Rojene Bailey and music business expert Allen Johnston.

The conference was held in conjunction with the 15th annual Jus’ Blues Music Awards held at Bluesville, a state-of-the-art performance venue inside the Horseshoe Casino & Hotel. The event honored important blues and soul artists and music professionals who have contributed much of their lives to advancing and promoting blues music and culture.

Honorees included Kenny Neal, Betty Wright, Fred Wesley, Lucky Peterson, Martha High and Vaneese Thomas, daughter of Stax Records legend, Rufus Thomas. Also, various artists performed, including 16-year-old Mississippi Delta-based Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, who recently played for President Obama and the First Lady at the White House.

“Both the conference and the awards program were educational and informative,” said Herts. “The conference provided practical information as well as scholarly insights about the blues. The awards program provided an opportunity to hear the stories of blues artists, their contributions and their accomplishments. I met so many visitors from other states like Illinois, Georgia, Florida and even California. This event definitely generated tourism activity in the Mississippi Delta region, so it is great that Jus Blues chose Tunica as the place to host it. Hopefully, they will continue to host it right here in the Delta, the home of the blues.”

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 National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop and the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is a partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. 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 http://www.msdeltaheritage.com.

Candace Chase (left), emergency assistant/volunteer coordinator at St. Gabriel Mercy Center; Heather Miller, the Delta Center; Mavis Honorable, SGMC assistant director; and Lee Aylward, the Delta Center, recently sorted linens donated by participants in this summer's Delta Center workshops.

Delta Center donates linens to St. Gabriel Mercy Center

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The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University once again invited participants from its residential workshops to donate bedding they used in campus dorms to the St. Gabriel Mercy Center in Mound Bayou, Miss.

The Delta Center recently completed two successful National Endowment for the Humanities  “Most Southern Place on Earth” summer workshops which brought 72 teachers from 32 states to live in the Delta and experience its rich heritage and culture for a week.

At the conclusion of each workshop, the participants donated their linens to the Delta Center, which laundered them and then donated them to St. Gabriel. Sheet sets, blankets and towel sets were among the items donated by the workshop participants. Over the years, participants have donated many sets of sheets, pillows and blankets. 

“The St. Gabriel Mercy Center enjoys working in collaboration with the Delta Center at Delta State University,” said Mavis Honorable, assistant director at St. Gabriel. “The center provides a volunteer service site to the Robertson Scholars from Duke University and the University of North Carolina, and it is always a pleasure to receive much needed donations and gifts from the Delta Center which helps us give back to the community.”

Learn more about the Delta Center’s rich history at http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/. Visit http://www.neh.gov/ to read about the National Endowment for the Humanities.