College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Sociology Instructor and Photographer Team to Show Modern Picture of Mississippi Blues

Scott Barretta has spent many years studying and documenting the blues and its history, and has written extensively about the genre for publications around the world. But his latest project to document blues culture may be the grandest yet.

An adjunct instructor in sociology and anthropology at the University of Mississippi, Barretta has teamed with acclaimed photographer Ken Murphy for “Mississippi: State of Blues” (Proteus Publications, 2010, $59.95), a coffee-table book documenting blues culture, including the current interest in blues tourism, throughout the state. Both Barretta and Murphy will be at Off Square Books in Oxford for a signing at 5 p.m. Friday (Nov. 5).

“This book is unique because it is the first book to survey the blues in Mississippi,” Barretta said.

Barretta and Murphy set out to show people more than the stereotypical, grainy black-and-white images of blues artists and patrons that they are used to seeing. They spent three years following blues music and tourism across the state trying to capture the essence of modern blues culture.

“We made a conscious effort to cover the whole state, from Bay Saint Louis to Natchez to Potts Camp, and not to simply concentrate on the Delta, like so many people do,” Barretta said.

And while “Mississippi: State of Blues” is a beautiful, oversized work filled with highly detailed color photos that depict the landscape and people of Mississippi blues, the idea was not to make simply a pretty picture book, Barretta said.

“We didn’t set out to make an art book, but instead just wanted to capture the breadth of the contemporary blues scene,” he explained.

Barretta, who teaches courses in Anthropology of Blues Culture and Sociology of Leisure and Popular Culture at UM, is the host of the “Highway 61″ radio show on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. He also  writes a blues column for the Clarion Ledger, conducts folklore research for the Mississippi Arts commission and has served as a researcher-writer for the Mississippi Blues Trail and B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.

He is a contributing writer and former editor of Living Blues magazine and is former editor of the Swedish blues magazine Jefferson.

For more information on “Mississippi: State of Blues,” including a gallery of images, go to