At the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the blues is a reason to celebrate. The eighth annual Blues Symposium will take place today and tomorrow.
The Blues Symposium is a gathering of scholars, writers, photographers, musicians and music industry figures to discuss and present research about the blues in Mississippi.
Mark Camarigg, co-event planner and publication manager at Living Blues Magazine, said the conference is more of an academic presentation and a forum for researchers, but there will also be live blues music.
“Because it’s the blues, it can have a broader appeal than people just interested in the music,” he said. “We also bring in musicians to play, and you don’t have to be into academia to enjoy that.”
Past themes have been “Women in the Blues,” “Africa to Mississippi,” “The Legacy of Howlin’ Wolf” and “Religion and the Blues.”
The theme for this year’s conference is “Missing Chapters in Blues History.”
Jim O’Neal, founding editor of Living Blues and the Mississippi Blues Trail Research Director, will focus on a number of interesting stories and facts he has unearthed while compiling his research for the Mississippi Blues Trail Markers.
Camarigg said they did this to coincide with an issue of Living Blues that focused on Natchez.
“In a way (Natchez) is a forgotten piece of the Mississippi blues puzzle, because folks really focus on the Delta and specifically Clarksdale or Greenville, but it’s surprising what little people know of the scene in Natchez,” Camarigg said.
“We did a whole issue on the Natchez scene and got a lot of great feedback, so we’re looking at these little untapped gems here in Mississippi, and (we want to) share these with the students and visitors.”
The event will begin tonight at Thacker Mountain Radio with musical guests the Reverend John Wilkins, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Natchez artists Gray Montgomery and YZ Ealey.
There will be a Highway 61 Radio program blues reception at Southside Art Gallery afterwards, which will feature blues photography and live music.
On Friday, the conference will shift to discussions at the J.D. Williams Library, where presentations will be made by Scott Barretta, host of Highway 61 radio program and co-founder of Living Blues, Adam Gussow, a blues harmonica player and associate professor of English and southern studies at UM. Greg Johnson, curator of the Ole Miss Blues Archive will also be presenting at the conference in the library.
The symposium will conclude with the Oxford Winter Blues Festival at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Ted Ownby, co-founder of the event, said the lectures will have unique topics such as blues tourism, something that has only appeared within recent years.
“You often hear the blues in the background, and it’s not very often in the foreground. We structure it so that what we, as researchers, can present what we feel is important,” Barretta said. “It’s definitely geared toward pushing the boundaries of blues research beyond saying the same old things over again but keeping the public conscious of what’s going on.”
Barretta will moderate a Q&A with blues musicians Gray Montgomery and YZ Ealey from Natchez Friday morning.
He said it’s really important to actually hear the blues musicians talk.
“This kind of thing has a lot of cultural repercussions because the state is broadcasting to the rest of the world ‘look at what great stuff these African-Americans created’ because this is not something Mississippi would have done 20 or 30 years ago,” Barretta said.
Camarigg said the goal of the event is to recognize emerging blues music research and the significance of the blues genre, as well as its continued impact on American culture.
“We don’t set an expectation for success according to how many people attend because sometimes they can be very small and successful as long as people are getting a lot out of it,” Ownby said.
All lectures and discussions are free to the public and no registration is required.