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Today is July 21, 2019

Mississippi - behind the evolution & revolution of America’s music

By Sandra M. Buckley

Mississippi - behind the evolution & revolution of America’s music

Mississippi is known the world over as the “Birthplace of America’s Music.” After all, Mississippi is credited for producing the “King of Rock and Roll,” the “Father of Country Music,” and the “King of the Blues.” These trailblazers, alongside hundreds of others, have impacted and influenced the music industry like no others in modern history. 

Mississippi’s music heritage has positioned the state as a true renaissance of musical genres, scaling past, present and even future trends. From rock and roll, country and blues to gospel, opera and everything in between, Mississippi has not only transformed the course of America’s music, it revolutionized it. 

Musical pioneer Miles Davis stated decades ago, “I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later.” That sentiment essentially describes the creative art forms of so many of Mississippi’s greatest musicians who experimented and developed music styles, shaping history forever in immeasurable ways.  

The music industry is also a rich source of economic development and brings in thousands of tourists every year to every corner of the state. From the Mississippi’s Blues Trail and Country Music Trail markers honoring iconic musicians and sites … to the Mississippi GRAMMY Museum in Cleveland and the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience in Meridian … to hundreds of music-themed festivals, live concerts and venue settings, there is a constant source of music-inspired entertainment for residents and visitors alike. 

Among numerous recognitions, Mississippi has enjoyed car tag designs and U.S. postage stamps printed in honor of its special music heritage. And in various and creative other ways, Mississippi will forever be

Here is a snapshot of only a few of the countless groundbreaking talents, genres and influence that have played a noteworthy role in Mississippi taking its rightful place in history as the “Birthplace of America’s Music.”

Elvis Presley

The “King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis Presley, once stated, “I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend,” which landed him the royalty title. Having been born and reared in Tupelo, the city creatively captures and honors his history, with an Elvis Presley Festival every June, tours of his humble childhood home, the Elvis Presley Museum and much more.  

Rock & Roll

Several famous rock musicians and bands have ties to the Magnolia state, including pop stars Britney Spears and Lance Bass; icons Jimmy Buffett, Steve Forbert, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bobbie Gentry; bands 3 Doors Down and Blind Melon; David Ruffin of The Temptations; and Tommy Aldridge, drummer for heavy metal band Ozzy Osbourne and 1980s rock band Whitesnake. 

Country Music

With so many pioneers of the country music industry tied to the state, the Mississippi Country Music Trail has erected markers all across the state. One of the greatest claims to fame is Jimmie Rodgers, of Meridian, who is revered as the “Father of Country Music” and the very first inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Another is Charlie Pride, of Sledge, who is honored as the most successful African American country singer and who recorded nearly 25 number one hits. And there is Conway Twitty, of Friars Point, who released more than 50 chart-topping singles.

Marty Stuart, whose hometown is Philadelphia, is giving back to his Neshoba County roots with the planning of the Marty Stuart Congress of Country Music. This country music museum and performing arts center, when it opens in a few short years, will showcase Stuart’s vast collection of more than 20,000 artifacts of memorabilia, photography, clothing, vintage instruments and more. In fact, his collection is the largest privately owned country music collection in the world – and includes items from country greats like Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Merle Haggard. This $30 million project will house the museum, classrooms, event space, a rooftop venue and will serve as yet another tourist destination paying tribute to Mississippi and America’s music.

The list of famous country artists goes on and on, including great talents such as Faith Hill, Mickey Gilley, LeAnn Rimes and Tammy Wynette. Award-winning songwriters Mac McAnally and Paul Overstreet are also acclaimed Mississippi natives. Plus, Governor Phil Bryant named singer-songwriter Steve Azar, of Greenville, the Music & Culture Ambassador of Mississippi. 

The Blues

As the “Birthplace of the Blues,” it is only fitting that the largest collection of blues music in the world is housed in Mississippi – at the University of Mississippi Blues Archive in Oxford, which is open to the public. 

Mississippi blues legends abound throughout the state, including “The King of the Blues,” B.B. King. And as Muddy Waters once said of this all-American music genre, “I was always singing the way I felt.” 

Museums such as the Blues Heritage Gallery in Greenwood, the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Indianola and the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center also in Indianola are scattered across the state, along with Blues Trail markers and live blues music venues – all of which independently bring in thousands of tourists each year. 

Clarksdale is a particular hotspot for the blues, as home to bluesmen such as W.C. Handy, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Clarksdale is also home to the Delta Blues Museum, which holds the title as the United State’s first museum devoted to the blues and Mississippi's oldest music museum. “Clarksdale is the only town in Mississippi that also features 365 nights of live blues music in the clubs, jukes and restaurants,” said resident and blues authority Roger Stolle. “When I used to visit as a tourist in the mid to late 1990s, there was one annual blues festival here and very sporadic blues club/juke joint music.” 

Gospel

Historically, gospel and blues music share many of the same influences and qualities. Because of that, there is a lot of crossover with numerous Mississippi artists, like B.B. King, Sam Cooke, Otis Clay and Denise LaSalle. There is a dedicated Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Cleveland inscribed “Gospel Music and the Blues” with a historic account of the two.  

Jazz / R&B / Hip-Hop 

Blues also helped pave the way for jazz, then rhythm and blues and hip-hop. Mississippi has a strong representation in these collective genres, from early stars such as Ike Turner, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, Thelma Houston and Bo Diddley to more recent performers like Brandy, Afroman and Soulja Boy.  

Big Band

Guy Hovis of Tupelo graced the stage of the iconic 1970s Lawrence Welk Show, dazzling television viewers for more than ten years.

Classical

American’s first African American classical music singer, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, was born in Natchez in 1809 and is heralded as the “Black Swan.” She even sang for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1854.

Opera

In 1961, soprano sensation Leontyne Price of Laurel made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Revered as one of the first internationally acclaimed African-American vocalists in opera, she endeared audiences far and wide with her magnificent and beautiful vocals.

In fact, the Mississippi Opera is touted as the ninth oldest continuously operating opera company in the country. Bringing incredible musical stage productions to thousands of Mississippians and tourists each year, it often hosts internationally celebrated opera singers to its stage. Additionally, it presents an annual Voices of Mississippi Competition, the only nationally advertised music competition in the state that recognizes exceptional opera and musical theatre of Mississippi-connected singers.

Symphony Orchestra

William Grant Still, of Woodville, is credited with the first symphony work composed by an African American and performed in America, which was the Afro-American Symphony in 1930. In fact, Still is regarded worldwide as the “Dean of African American Composers” and achieved several “firsts” in that capacity. According to the website interlude.hk, these include the first to have a “symphony performed by a major symphony orchestra (1935, New York Philharmonic); first to conduct a major orchestra (1936, Los Angeles Philharmonic); first to conduct an orchestra in the Deep South (1955, New Orleans Philharmonic); first to have an opera (Troubled Island) produced by a major company (1949, New York City Opera); and first to have an opera (A Bayou Legend) broadcast on television (1981, PBS).” 

Today, the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra is the state’s largest professional performing arts organization, presenting more than 120 concerts statewide each year, entertaining approximately 75,000 Mississippians in all. With concerts from its home stage at Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson to touring as a full orchestra, chamber orchestra and ensembles around the state, including annual visits to Brookhaven, Canton, Cleveland, Columbus, Greenwood, Greenville, Hattiesburg, McComb, Meridian, Poplarville, Pascagoula and Vicksburg. It also offers Mississippi Symphony Youth Orchestras’ educational program for hundreds of students on the cello, violin and viola as well as presents Children's Concerts performing as a full orchestra that reaches more than 16,000 elementary school students each year.

The Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Experience

This new state-of-the-art facility in Meridian has been open for about one year and showcases many Mississippi creative artists, including musicians, and inducts members into its esteemed Mississippi Hall of Fame.

Peavey Electronics 

The most modern music and concert experience would not be what it is today without Peavey Electronics in Meridian. Driven by innovation, and as one of the world’s largest designers, makers and suppliers of professional musical instruments, amplifiers and audio systems, Peavey is responsible for influencing all genres of musicians as well as the way we hear and experience music. 

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