The Mississippi Cultural Crossroads hosted the 2nd Annual Lil Green Day Celebration bringing attention to a hometown Blues singer whose career was short-lived but garnered critical acclaim in the industry.
The Lil Green Day Celebration was held in downtown Port Gibson on Friday, September 10, 2021 and began with an invocation by Min. Oliver Chambliss followed by a brief welcome by Felecia Harried, Executive Director of the Mississippi Cultural Crossroads. Harried introduced the Blues workshop panelists, Dr. Brinda Willis and YZ Ealey.
Willis, a member of the Speakers’ Bureau with the Mississippi Humanities Council, gave an overview of her global travels and work in the Blues industry as the manager of her late husband, Bluesman Chick Willis. Currently, Willis is the manager and publicist for Keith Johnson, “Prince of the Delta Blues,” the great nephew of Blues icon, Muddy Waters. While married to Chick Willis, Brinda traveled extensively to the Netherlands, Germany, France, and the U.S. Additionally, she has worked as a publicist for Grammy Award winning songwriter, Grady Champion.
Willis told the audience about her experiences with promoters, venues, fans, and contracts. She also explained how musicians have been, and continue to be, exploited by record labels and promoters. She stressed the need for musicians to learn about publishing, licensing, and copyrighting, no matter what genre of music they create.
Willis informed the audience about an article she wrote for the Jackson Advocate newspaper in 2021 which posed the question, “Is Bobby Rush the Last Rabbit Foot Minstrel?” In the article, Willis related Rush’s show to minstrel shows that frequented Port Gibson in the 1900s of which Lil Green participated.
The other panelist, YZ Ealey, relayed his work as a Blues and Gospel musician and singer. He performed in Natchez as a child through adulthood, and his travels took him from the East Coast to the West Coast with his eventual return to his hometown.
Ealey is a Delta Blues Museum Hall of Fame member, band leader, and performer whose career spans over four decades with his first band, “YZ & The Merry Makers”. He comes from one of Natchez’s premiere musical families which includes eleven brothers and sisters who sang and performed sacred and secular music in local churches and nightclubs in and around Natchez.
The Ealey family has a Mississippi Blues Trail marker honoring the family’s contributions to the religious and Blues music world in Natchez and the nation. Ealey’s famous brother Theodis Ealey, was honored as “Male Artist of the Year” in 1997. His breakout 2002 Southern Soul hit, “Stand Up In It”, received national acclaim that reached #64 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop Singles charts and #5 on the Blues charts. It also received a Jackson Music Award and a Little Milton Blues Award. YZ Ealey recalled his time playing with the likes of Johnny Fuller, Jimmy McCracklin, L.C. “Good Rockin” Robinson, and Big Mama Thornton of “Hound Dog” fame.
During the panel discussion, Willis and Ealey took turns responding to questions posed by Harried and the audience of approximately 150 Blues fans, music educators, teachers, and local musicians.
The highlight of the Lil Green Day Celebration was the appearance of two-time Grammy Award winner Bobby Rush, who signed copies of his autobiography I Ain’t Studdin Ya: “My American Blues Story.” Rush also discussed his early days working minstrel shows as a kid in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and Port Gibson and his time on the Chittlin Circuit. He answered questions from the audience and in a surprise impromptu mini performance, Rush played his harmonica and sang two of his hit songs – “Garbage Man” and “My Woman, My Wife and My Girlfriend.”
The night portion of the Lil Green Day Celebration included a reception from 5:00 pm-7:00pm. Port Gibson Mayor Willie White welcomed the festival attendees to the city and gave the invocation. Avis King, interim Claiborne County Administrator, greeted everyone, and Milton Chambliss, director of the Claiborne County Economic Development District, presented the occasion and recognized Ann Steinmetz (Lil Green Mississippi Blues Trail Marker Researcher and Fundraiser), Visit Mississippi, Rev’s Country Tours, and the Mississippi Blues Trail.
Writing contest winners were Allen Jones, Jr., Ambreyanna Jones, LaShaunie Phillips, Robert Flowers, Terrian Bailey, Jr., A’Zyriah Miller, Jaylien Johnson, Reginae Martin, Robyn Marbley, and Mariyah Green. Ten contest entries were selected as winners who received cash prizes for their essays entitled “What Music Means to Me.”
A Miss Lil Green musical tribute performance was presented by Vanessa Thomas & Friends. Mississippi Cultural Crossroad Director Felecia Harried gave a Lil Green family tribute and acknowledged the festival sponsors that included Claiborne County Heritage Trust, Visit Mississippi, National Endowment for the Arts, Claiborne County Economic Development District, and Mississippi Cultural Crossroads.
The featured evening entertainment for the Lil Green Day Celebration was provided by Nellie Mack & The Nellie Mack Project.
Dinner was sponsored by members of the Lil Green Family – Barbara Smith (granddaughter) and Shelton Smith (great grandson).
The Mississippi Cultural Crossroads is located at 507 Market Street in downtown Port Gibson, Mississippi 39150. Their vision is “breathing new life into communities through arts and culture” and the mission is “to create opportunities to cultivate artistic expression, collaboration, and community engagement.”
The Mississippi Cultural Crossroads has a world-class exhibit of handmade quilts created by local artisans on permanent display. Visit www.msculturalcrossroads.org/lilgreenday. For additional information, call 601-437-8905.
Brinda Fuller Willis, Ph.D. is a freelance contributing writer for the Jackson Advocate newspaper since 2001. She is an independent consultant, advice columnist, keynote speaker, ADA specialist, grant writer, and winner of the 2019 Mississippi Humanities Council’s Educator Award. (firstname.lastname@example.org/www.brindafullerwillis.com)