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MS Delta NHA awards $15,000 in Festival/Event Grants

Performers at the 4th annual Alcorn University Jazz Festival, a partner event of the Vicksburg Arts and Music Festival. Photo by Erin Southard.

CLEVELAND, Miss. — Through support from the Mississippi Development Authority and Visit Mississippi, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area (MS Delta NHA) has awarded five $3,000 grants to Mississippi Delta cultural heritage festivals and events that will happen this spring.

Between February and April 2024, these festivals and events will commemorate Mississippi Delta cultural heritage, from celebrating the power of gospel and blues music to investigating the changing nature of American rural life.

“We are so excited to support this inaugural cycle of Mississippi Delta festivals and events,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, executive director of the MS Delta NHA and director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University. “Supporting these festivals and events is ultimately about stimulating community-based cultural heritage tourism across the Mississippi Delta, which connects to promoting local pride of place and economic activity.”

According to National Geographic, community-based cultural heritage tourism, if done well, empowers local organizations and residents to host travelers proudly, engage them authentically, and create economic opportunities equitably by showcasing unique cultural heritage assets. Festivals and events can provide meaningful platforms for such activities.

The five festivals and events supported by the MS Delta NHA will take place in Cleveland (Bolivar County), Marks (Quitman County), Rolling Fork (Sharkey County), Tunica (Tunica County), and Vicksburg (Warren County).

In March 2024, GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi in Cleveland will host “Written in Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos” as part of its ongoing public program series Words & Music. The event will feature a panel discussion with Stax songwriters Henderson Thigpen, Deanie Parker, Bobby Manuel, and Eddie Floyd, as well as artist William Bell, compilation co-producer Cheryl Pawelski, and author Robert Gordon.

In Marks, the Quitman County Arts Council and Culture Center will host its first annual Let Freedom Sing Festival, a celebration of gospel music and its significance to the civil rights movement.

“By bringing high-quality, live, creative music to Quitman County, this event will positively impact all of our community residents,” said Bernice Sykes, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the Quitman County Arts Council and Culture Center. “Community members will have the opportunity to listen to, interact with, and learn from world-class university choirs who perform music significantly influenced by Black American culture.”

The Let Freedom Sing Festival will be held on Saturday, March 2.

Rolling Fork will host the traveling Smithsonian exhibit Crossroads: Change in Rural America with additional support from the Mississippi Humanities Council.

“This exhibit explores how rural American communities have changed in the 20th century and encourages visitors to consider ways the community can become sustainable going forward,” said Meg Cooper, Program Coordinator for Mississippi’s Lower Delta Partnership. “Rolling Fork is definitely at a crossroads, especially since the March 2023 tornado that devastated so much of it. We hope that this exhibit will inspire the community to rethink Rolling Fork and all it could be.”

Several events related to the exhibit will be hosted this spring, including a session with Willy Bearden on Tuesday, March 19 and a presentation of Sharkey and Issaquena County oral histories by Maryanne Weissinger on Tuesday, April 16.

The Tunica Rivergate Festival is celebrating its 31st year of existence this spring. The festival, scheduled for Thursday April 18 through Saturday, April 20, 2024, is a cornerstone of the Tunica events calendar and regularly welcomes more than 3,000 visitors to experience the Delta’s creative and culinary heritage.

Erin Southard, Executive Director of the Vicksburg Convention Center, says The Vicksburg Arts and Music Festival was founded in 2022 to bring people back together to celebrate Vicksburg’s music and art heritage in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We expect to attract more people from around the region this year, which would mean tens of thousands in economic impact to our community,” said Southard. “The event is partnered with the Alcorn State Jazz Festival as well as the Omega Psi Phi Talent Hunt. This year we are expanding the artist line up to include a national touring artist Bobby Rush. Our ultimate goal for the festival is for attendees to have a cultural experience to see, feel, hear and taste everything that Mississippi has to offer culturally.”

The 2024 Vicksburg Arts and Music Festival is scheduled to take place on Friday, April 19 and Saturday, April 20, 2024.

To stay up to date on grants news from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, visit their website (hyperlink: or join their grants news mailing list.

The MS Delta NHA 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 MS Delta NHA 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 MS Delta NHA, including the complete approved management plan, is available at

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 MS Delta NHA and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshops. For more information, visit