Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mississippi Music

The Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, founded by Jackson Jim Brewer to single out legendary musicians not honored previously, recently named Jimmy Reed,the Rev. Cleophus Robinson, Blind Roosevelt Graves and the Mississippi Jook Band, Freddy Waits, Charlie Feathers and Tommy Johnson. They represented the fields of gospel, rock, R&B,jazz, country and blues, in that order.

Now retiring Brewer is handing the reins over to another Jacksonian who has plans for continuing the tradition set by the founder. Despite Brewer's consistency with his Hall of Fame (1998 til now), I've only noticed his work. Perhaps that's because I now have more time to reminisce, remember...

On a visit to Yazoo City last spring with my sister who was gathering information about the town for a magazine article, we were reminded in the chamber's museum located in an refurbished school building, that the city claimed a few blues musicians who originated there. John Lee Hooker and Arnold "Gate Mouth" Moore were the only two we recognized by name.

However, other towns around the state, notably the Delta area, keep these musicians alive through various venues.

Clarksdale, in the Delta, honor musicians with their Blues Museum. The Delta Blues and Heritage Fest held annually is one not to be missed. Despite the heat that sits with you in September, the music is deep-down great. While there you can eat at any of the three restaurants in Clarksdale owned by actor Morgan Freeman, who lives in a nearby town.

My first teaching year was spent in the Delta. Despite my college education, I hadn't ever visited the Delta, a treeless plain that used to get refreshed with the overflow of the Mississippi River. My fellow teachers and I would travel from the little town of Drew on Saturdays to Clarksdale to shop and see a movie. There was no Blues Museum, nor a Ground Zero restaurant where my husband and I ate in 2000, nothing of particular interest. Just a good movie theatre without rats running across our feet.

Quoting from the chamber website is a sketch of Delta Blues:

"Mississippi Delta Blues is globally recognized as one of the most America's important musical forms. A major catalyst for American popular culture, it exists in both a folk context and as a product of the commercial music industry. In the face of a historically brutal social experience, black folk in America affirmed their humanity by remembering and creating a rich expressive culture of poetry, tales, crafts, ritual, dance and music. This system embodied techniques of cultural transmission, transformation, adaptation and survival. Early Blues developed out of this rich fabric and cross-fertilized the work-songs, love-songs, slow drags, rags and spirituals. Delta Blues soon became the emotional and literary voice of black singers across the south."

Growing up and living in the city I was only accustomed to popular music. Once when visiting my relatives in the South Mississippi countryside, I was invited to go with cousins to a party. The music was name-denying. Three grown men with their fiddles and violins played in the small living room in the tiny house, windows open wide so guests could mill around outside, talking and dancing and singing along. As a thirteen year old I was in a strange environment. The singing made me laugh. Laugh at the plain-ness, the countryside patois that unknowingly entered my soul to remain there for a half century. Nowadays I am reminded of the music of the early century that snapped in and out of my life as a child. How wonderful now to have this music slre-recorded and available.

Thanks to Mr. Brewer for singling out these musicians and making us more aware of the rhythms that have emanated throughout this landscape for over 100 years.

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