Dr. Jerryl Briggs, Sr., President of Mississippi Valley State University, welcomed a large audience of Blues fans, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the community-at-large to the 7th Annual B.B. King Day Symposium that was headlined by celebrated “Women in Blues” on Thursday, September 2, 2021.
The B.B. King Day is always held on the first Thursday in September and this year homage was paid to “Women in Blues” to acknowledge the contributions women have made in a male-dominated genre.
A pre-B.B. King Day Symposium Lecture was held on September 1, 2021, with guest lecturers, Teeny Tucker and Vickie Baker during the morning session. The afternoon session “A Celebration of Gospel” was headlined by the Mississippi Valley State University Choral Music Program in collaboration with the Coahoma Community College Concert Choir comprised of students from both institutions. MVSU’s Choral program is headed by Dr. Brandon T. Cash and the Coahoma Concert Choir is under the direction of Dr. Kelvin K. Towers and Assistant Director Jemero Carter.
Teeny Tucker is a recording artist and visual artist whose career began in the church and evolved as a singer-songwriter performing in church and on the Blues stages around the world. Her career spans over several decades, receiving multiple music awards that includes the Jus Blues Historian Award. Recently, Teeny began a new career as a visual artist with artwork on Amazon and in other venues in Columbus, Ohio where she resides. She continues to perform Blues music at festivals and music venues. Tucker is the daughter of Blues legend Tommy Tucker, who wrote the Blues classic “Hi Heel Sneakers” included in the 2017 Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, Tennessee. Teeny is a member of the Blues Foundation Board of Directors and a six-time participant in the B.B. King Day Symposium.
Vickie Baker is an alumnus of MVSU, receiving her BA in Music and holds a Master’s in Music from the University of Mississippi. Baker has had a stellar career both on the performing stage as a backup vocalist, Blues festival headliner, music educator, chorale instructor at Vicksburg Catholic School, and currently as band director at Vicksburg High School. She also is a member of the Tau Beta Sigma Honorary Band Sorority and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Dr. Briggs gave opening remarks and welcomed all guests to the 7th Annual B.B. King Day Symposium on September 2, 2021. Dr. Alphonso Sanders, founder of the symposium, served as the program guide for the day and Robert Terrell, Director of Operations at the B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretative Center in Indianola, Mississippi, provided a memorial roll call of Bluesmen and Blueswomen punctuated by a moment of silence. Teeny Tucker acted as the panel moderator and narrator for the film, “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues”, depicting the roles of six women who made Blues music history with research personalized by little-known caveats about each. The women included:
• Ma Rainey (“Mother of the Blues”)
• Mamie Smith (Recording Trailblazer, 1st to record 1920 “Crazy Blues”)
• Bessie Smith (Medical Discrimination)
• Alberta Hunter (Resiliency)
• Mahalia Jackson (Blues Gospel)
• Sister Rosetta Tharpe (A Dominating Force)
“Breaking Music’s Glass Ceiling” panelists were Nellie Mack (Bass Guitarist/Nellie Mack Project), B.B. Queen (International Blues Guitarist), and Anna Coday (Owner/Coday Records).
B.B. King’s “Lucille Speaks”, a performance featuring B.B. Queen, Walter B. King, Alphonso Sanders, Mickey Rogers, Nellie Mack, D. K. Harrell, Joe Eagle, and Rachelle Coba, was also a highlight of the event.
Dr. Sanders said, “Women created the ceiling we now call ‘Sky is the Limit’. They were the role models and gateways leading to performance platforms and record music sales. Yet, there are too few conversations of their struggles and their importance to this music called the Blues. These women didn’t have to break the ceiling; they set it, and it remains high.”
Teeny Tucker continued as the moderator for the afternoon session, “Women and the Changing Musical Landscape” (1950s-1990s). These women truly changed the musical landscape with their big hits that included:
• Willie Mae Thornton, aka “Big Mama Thornton” (12-11-1926 – 7-25-1984), “Hound Dog”
• Mabel Louise Smith, aka “Big Maybelle” (5-1-1924 – 1-23-1972), “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On”
• Cora Ann Walton, aka “Koko Taylor” (9-28-1928 – 6-3-2009), “Wang Dang Doodle”
• Jamesetta Hawkins, aka “Etta James” (1-25-1938 – 1-20-2012), “I’d Rather Go Blind”
The moderator for “Women and the Changing Musical Landscape” was Vickie Baker and the panelists included Nellie “Tiger” Travis, Ms. Jody, and Rachelle Coba.
A lively question and answer session with panelists was held at the end of the morning and afternoon sessions, discussing topics that ranged from:
• How stage names originated?
• How personal security is handled on the road in the states and internationally?
• How are conflicts handled with male musicians with a woman being the boss?
• Discrepancies in pay for women verses male musicians.
• How is stage persona developed and how does the transformation take place?
• Who are their influences?
• Where did they sing their first song?
• How prevalent is sexism and chauvinism handled in the industry?
Dr. Sanders said, “Women will continue to be at the forefront of music, no matter the style or performance mode. However, today’s women of the Blues will have to love with challenge of making music with a defined tradition of style and showmanship, or most fitting, ShowWomanShip (SWS). Yes, today’s women entertainers who are attracted to the Blues will be those artists linked to a profound music history that is identified with the struggles of African American life. The Blues song is not in the lyrics, it has to be heard in your voice. Sing on Sister if you feel it.”
The finalé for the symposium culminated with a nighttime star-studded jam-session at the B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretative Center in Indianola with musicians that participated in the two-day symposium event.
Riley B. King, known as B.B. King, “King of the Blues”, was born September 16, 1925 and died May 14, 2015. He is buried on the grounds of the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi.
The official sponsors for the 7th Annual B.B. King Day Symposium were the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, Delta Center for Culture & Learning, Experience Greenwood Mississippi, Mississippi Valley State University, BB King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center, Mississippi Blues Foundation with special thanks to Dr. Jerryl Briggs, B.B King Recording Studio, Dr. Alphonso Sanders (founder), Margaret H. Clark, MVSU Office of Communication & Marketing, MVSU IT Staff, Dameon Shaw & Office of Advancement, Xavier Redmond & MVSU Campus Police, Thompson Hospitality, MVSU Ambassadors, and the MVSU Office of Facilities Management.