‘Origins of the Blues’ tops discussions at annual MVSU B.B. King Symposium

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Celebrated author, visual artist, and storyteller Diane Williams performed in front of a most untraditional audience at the Delta Correctional Facility for Women in Greenwood, MS Sept. 6, 2023. Williams held them spellbound as she talked about the Origins of the Mississippi Blues. The program kicked off the annual B.B. King Symposium held at Mississippi Valley State University.

“I’m an everyday kinda woman who transplanted herself from New Jersey to Mississippi because it is the ‘Birthplace of the Blues,’” she said, adding, “That was one reason I ended up in a place like Mississippi as stated by William Faulkner, one the state’s most celebrated authors.”

Williams said once she told the gathering she was a published writer, her lecture took a 360-degree turn. “The women wanted to find out about becoming a writer and how one gets a book published. I spent time discussing writing techniques and gave them writing resources that included the website for the Mississippi Arts Commission.”

After the mini writing and publishing part of the impromptu lecture, she returned to the Origins of the Mississippi Blues. “I took approximately 100 women on a journey about how the blues originated in Africa and even went back to biblical times with David and the harp, then on to Dockery Farms and Alan Lomax’s documenting the first recordings of the blues, field hollers, call and response and the blues of the human condition, whether it be sadness, hard times, sharecropping, and how our people found slivers of joy in life that evolved into blues as we know it today. I even sang an original blues song, ‘I’m A Mississippi Woman.’”

The second day of the symposium was held on the MVSU campus in the Carver Randle Auditorium. Malika Polk-Lee, director, and Robert Terrell, deputy director of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, held a moment of silence in memory of deceased blues legends. Panel moderator Art T. Burton introduced and directed a panel of blues aficionados for the morning session of the second day events. The Origins of the Blues panel lecturers included Raful Neal (Louisiana), Christopher Parker (Arkansas), Frankie Robinson Jr. (Georgia), and Jock Webb Sr. (Alabama).

The Thursday morning session concluded with a blues performance by Terry “Harmonica” Bean, an international blues traveler from the Black Prairie Mississippi who always gives his own improvisational blues history lesson with a little bit of hard-hitting blues harp as icing on the cake.

An after-lunch performance was a highlight of the B.B. King Day Symposium with a special performance by Lil Ray Neal featuring “Lucille,” B.B. King’s personal guitar on loan from the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, MS. Ray Neal was accompanied by Eric Edwards (piano), Mickey Rogers (guitar), Tranleson Tribblett (bass guitar), Joe “Eagle” Johnson (drums), and Theodore Arthur Jr. (saxophone).

Origins of the Blues continued with Clark White and Henry Perry Jr. (Tennessee) and Diane Williams (Mississippi). Panel moderator Art “Turk” Burton and guest speakers gave concluding remarks and thoughts of the day’s event. The B.B. King Art Competition winners were announced and an art exhibit by the eStem Elementary School was provided under the supervision of art instructor, Dwan Whitfield (Little Rock, AR) and the MVSU Fine Arts (Freda Clark Brent and art students). An end of the day blues finale closed out  the afternoon program. The Central Mississippi Blues Society brought along a group of middle school students from the Mississippi Delta to immerse them in blues culture and to celebrate the King of the Blues, B.B. King!

The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center hosted an evening blues jam that featured B.B. King Symposium founder, Alphonso Sanders, Ph.D., and a lineup of Delta bluesmen and women.

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‘Origins of the Blues’ tops discussions at annual MVSU B.B. King Symposium

By Brinda Fuller Willis
September 18, 2023