Delta State University’s 5th Annual International Conference on the Blues will celebrate the region’s connections to the art form by honoring blues legends and investigating gospel music’s links to it. The event takes place Sept. 29-Oct. 2 on the campus of Delta State.
“Our theme this year is ‘Spirit of the Blues,’” said Don Allan Mitchell, conference co-chair and chair of the languages and literature department at Delta State. “We examine how spirituals and gospel inform the blues and the African-American music tradition.”
The blues legend to be commemorated is Muddy Waters. Born McKinley Morganfield in Rolling Fork, Mississippi in 1915, he was sent at age three to live with his grandmother on the Stovall Plantation, north of Clarksdale, after his mother died. His hits included “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Got My Mojo Workin’,” and “Mannish Boy.” Delta State will pay tribute to the 1987 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee with a free concert, “The Morganfield Family Reunion,” at the Court Street courthouse at 7 PM on Oct. 1. There also will be a scholarly presentation about him during the conference.
The rising star on the bill is Trombone Shorty. Born Troy Andrews in 1986 into a well-known New Orleans musical family, he began playing professionally as a little boy. The child mastered several instruments—including trumpet, drums, and trombone, before settling on the one he’s nicknamed for, which was twice as long as he was high. His albums include Parking Lot Symphony (2017) and Say That to This (2013). He and his band, Orleans Avenue, will close the conference with a concert at 7:30 PM on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at the Bologna Performing Arts Center.
In addition, Grammy Award-winning scholar Elijah Wald will give a talk, “The Uncensored History of Jelly Roll Morton’s Blues.” And Charles Reagan Wilson, professor emeritus of history and former director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at University of Mississippi, will deliver the keynote address, “The Spiritual Crossroads of the Mississippi Delta: Regional, Global and Religious.”
“We cannot study the blues without an understanding of the African-American culture that produced it,” said Mitchell. “That’s why we continue to approach the blues as a path to scholarly discourse. As Mississippi is the cradle for much of American music, the state’s past is vital to African-American history and culture.”
Other conference highlights:
• Gospel Roots Family Day on Sept. 29 celebrates Gospel Music Heritage Month and includes appearances and workshops from blues musicians Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes, J. J. Thames, and Keith Johnson; art activities hosted by Delta Arts Alliance; and music production opportunities at Delta State’s DMI (Delta Music Institute) Mobile Music Lab.
• A presentation on the American Folk Blues Festival, which brought Mississippi blues to world stages in the 1960s, by noted performer and musicologist, Herbert Quelle, also the German consul in Chicago.
• A master class and presentation from Sunpie Barnes, former Sting sideman and New Orleans Jazz National Park director.
• A “Spirit and the Blues” gospel showcase by the Coahoma Community College Concert Choir, under the direction of Dr. Kelvin Towers.
• “Blues in the Round,” a jam session for registrants and presenters, hosted by DMI Director Tricia Walker, and taking place at Mississippi Grounds coffee shop and restaurant.
Visit here for a complete schedule of shows and presenters.
All events are free and open to the public except the Trombone Shorty show. For tickets to it, $30-$60, call 662-846-4626 or go to bolognapac.com/events/trombone-shorty/
About the International Conference on the Blues: The International Conference on the Blues consists of three days of scholarly activity, discourse, and music on the Delta State University campus. Regional, national, and international musicians and scholars, along with fans of the blues, attend the presentations and performances. Past music headliners include Grammy Award winners Aaron Neville, Dom Flemons, and Alvin Youngblood Hart. Previous leading scholars to appear include Bill Ferris, chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities; Grammy winner David Evans; and former director of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University, John Szwed. Longtime supporters of the conference include the Chisholm Foundation, Hearin Foundation, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, and Visit Mississippi.
About Delta State University: Delta State University is a four-year public institution whose more than 3,750 students come from most U.S. states and more than 50 countries. The university offers numerous unique programs, including the Delta Music Institute entertainment industry program, and is the only university in Mississippi to offer undergraduate and graduate aviation programs. Situated in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, which is recognized as the birthplace of American music, Delta State has become the center of music and culture for the state and the region. The university is also the academic center for the blues, offering an online blues studies curriculum that leads to a certificate for advanced study of blues music. In addition, Delta State offers top-notch academic programs in business, arts, sciences, nursing, and education, among other areas.