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Delta State to host the 8th Annual International Conference on the Blues virtually Oct. 1

Registration is now open for the 8th Annual International Conference on the Blues at

CLEVELAND, Miss.—Delta State University will continue its celebration of the blues art form through scholarly activity, discourse and music during the 8th Annual International Conference on the Blues (ICOB) virtual event.

Slated for Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, this year’s conference will be available through the award-winning event and conference platform, Whova, providing attendees a seamless online experience and on-demand access.

The conference’s “Spirit of the Blues” theme explores connections among blues, gospel, and spirituals as interrelated African American music traditions in the Mississippi Delta and beyond. The Spirit of the Blues initiative is supported by a grant awarded by the National Park Service’s Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative to Delta State’s Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Jontavious Willis

Featured performances and presenters include Grammy-nominated Jontavious Willis, the Coahoma Community College Gospel Choir, the Rev. Dr. Dwight Andrews and Annette Hollowell.

Online registration is now open to the DSU community and the general public at Registration is free for Delta State students, faculty and staff members.

“While live music is best, a positive of the virtual platform is that any registrant will be able to watch the performances, presentations, papers, and keynote addresses in real time and again as many times as they wish through Oct. 31, 2021,” said conference co-chair Don Allan Mitchell, associate professor of English at Delta State.

“The online platform is interactive, allowing guests and presenters to interact in real time, and includes fun competitions and other features to encourage virtual participation. The virtual format is particularly useful for Delta State students, who will have access to a treasure trove of gospel music and blues discussion,” he added.

The conference will begin Friday morning with performances connecting the Black gospel tradition to the blues.

“Our keynote solo performer, Jontavious Willis, will play a gospel set on Friday morning,” shared conference co-chair Dr. Shelley Collins, professor of music at Delta State. “Since our 2017 conference, he’s been nominated for a Grammy for his blues album Spectacular Class. Legendary bluesman Taj Mahal has nicknamed Jontavious ‘The Wunderkind’ for his outstanding singing, songwriting, and guitar playing.”

Attendees will also enjoy performances by a conference favorite, the Coahoma Community College Concert Choir of Clarksdale, Miss.

“The Coahoma Community College Concert Choir was a big hit when they performed at ICOB in 2018. This summer they were filmed for a travel series on CNN, and they blew the producers away, so we’re glad to have them back again for the 2021 conference,” said Collins.

The afternoon will feature academic presentations, including a keynote address by the Rev. Dr. Dwight Andrews, professor of music theory and African American music at Emory University and senior minister of First Congregational Church in Atlanta.

“Dr. Andrews was most recently noted for his work on ‘The Black Church’ documentary on PBS with famed Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,” said Collins. “He was August Wilson’s music director for several Broadway productions and helped establish him as one of America’s foremost 20th century playwrights.”

In addition, attorney, social activist and producer of traditional Black music for live music venues Annette Hollowell will provide special presentations exploring the business side of Black music.

“Annette Hollowell is the convener of the Foxfire Blues Assembly, at her family’s farm. This farm, Foxfire Ranch, has become a space for retreat, deep learning and celebration of rural Black culture, as well as a resource for artists, healers and lovers of justice,” said Collins.

“She also produces a regular series of Sunday night blues performances at Foxfire Ranch, so she serves many roles in the Mississippi music scene,” she added.

Rev. Dr. Dwight Andrews

Other topics to be explored during the conference include the blues; music of the African diaspora; Black musical traditions and influences on American music and culture; the influence of blues, gospel, spirituals, and soul music; Black music as protest and social commentary; and Black artists and the music industry.

All academic presentations will be recorded and available for on-demand access.

The 2021 ICOB will kick-off with a pre-conference concert on Sept. 30 at Delta State’s Bologna Performing Arts Center (BPAC), featuring SHAKE & HOLLA: Grammy-nominated and Blues Music Award-winning North Mississippi Allstars, joined by the legendary Rebirth Brass Band and Cedric Burnside.

Concert tickets are not included with the conference registration and may be purchased at or by calling (662) 846-4626.

To learn more about the International Conference on the Blues, view past conferences or register for this year’s event, visit

For questions, please e-mail