College of Liberal Arts

- University of Mississippi

Living Blues Magazine’s 44-Year Oral History Project

BY WIN GRAHAM, APRIL 22, 2014

From its humble beginnings in the basement of a Chicago home in 1970, Living Blues magazine has become the preeminent publication for the blues. For 44 years, Living Blues has told the story of the African-American Blues experience. The magazine is printed bimonthly and has a circulation of about 20,000 and a fan base that stretches over 100 countries.

Living Blues struggled in Chicago before being purchased by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi in 1983 and has been published out of the university ever since. As Mississippi is the birthplace of the blues, it made perfect sense to relocate to the state.

Living Blues is basically a 44-year ongoing oral history project,” said Brett Bonner, editor of the magazine.  “We let the blues artists speak about their experience.”

A sociologist by trade, Bonner sees the magazine as a cultural document focusing on the African American experience within the larger narrative of American history.

Mark Camarigg, publications manager of Living Blues magazine, Jim O'Neal, co-founder of LB, Brett Bonner, LB editor, and Scott Barretta, Highway 61 Radio host unveil the Blues Marker honoring "Living Blues" magazine which is published at The University of Mississippi.

Mark Camarigg, publications manager of Living Blues magazine, Jim O’Neal, co-founder, Brett Bonner, editor, and Scott Barretta, Highway 61 Radio host unveil the Blues Marker honoring the magazine. Photo by Robert Jordan

“That’s another thing that feels important about Living Blues is that we’re documenting something that, in a lot of cases, is overlooked and not documented in other places,” Bonner said. “The history of the blues is part of the history of the African-American experience in America.”

Living Blues is known for its long feature stories full of exposition from the subject about their lives and careers. In 44 years, the magazine has conducted over 2,000 interviews with blues men and women all over the country. Many of the stories these artists have told date back to the early 1900s.

When asked why preserving the blues was important, Bonner points out that the music “speaks to truths. The lyrics of the songs are about real life.” And now is the time to preserve these stories as more great blues musicians men die every year. Bonner sees the magazine as a labor of love, not just on his part, but also on the part of those who contribute to each issue.

Living Blues received a historical marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail from the state of Mississippi in 2009. It is located outside of Barnard Observatory. They were also honored as a past recipient of the Blues Foundation’s prestigious “Keeping the Blues Alive” award.

For more information on Living Blues visit their website at www.livingblues.com.