MERDIAN: Celebration of Mississippi’s Music Heritage


Mississippi’s Own Blues Musician Eddie Cotton & Country-Rock Pioneer Chris Ethridge

among the Participants for a Weekend Celebration of Mississippi’s Music Heritage


MERIDIAN, MS—The Jimmie Rodgers Foundation and the Mississippi State University Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts in partnership with the Mississippi Development Authority Tourism Division are presenting A Celebration of Mississippi’s Music Heritage on August 20-21, 2010. The two-day event is designed to complement Marty Stuart’s exhibit of American music memorabilia, entitled Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart’s American Musical Odyssey, which is on display at the MSU Riley Center through September 18, 2010. Activities are planned to honor Mississippi’s rich musical heritage as the birthplace of blues, rock, country and gospel. The events also pay tribute to Meridian’s own Jimmie Rodgers, The Father of Country Music. One of the biggest stars of American music before his untimely death in 1933, Jimmie Rodgers has been inducted into the Country, Songwriter and Rock & Roll Halls of Fame and is credited with helping to popularize the blues in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.


A Celebration of Mississippi’s Music Heritage kicks off Friday, August 20, 2010, with Singer-Songwriters in the Round in the center’s intimate studio theater, featuring Meridian native and award-winning songwriter Don Poythress, who’s written for Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow and Tim McGraw among others. He will be joined by two other Nashville singer-songwriters, Walt Aldridge and Steve Dean who have also written chart topping songs for a variety of country, rock and gospel artists. Patrons will have an opportunity to explore the Sparkle & Twang exhibit before, during and after the show.


The weekend’s events will be capped off with a blues concert, entitled “The Next Generation of Blues” featuring Mississippi’s own Eddie Cotton, Grady Champion, Dexter Allen and the Jarekus Singleton Band in the center’s historic Grand Opera House theater.

Headlining the show, Eddie Cotton, Jr. worked as guitarist, organist and music director in his father’s COGIC church in Clinton before taking up blues in the 1990s. The excitement of his live show is captured in his CD Live at the Alamo, recorded at the historic venue on Jackson’s Farish Street. A versatile musician, Cotton portrayed Robert Johnson in the film Stop Breakin’ Down. Grady Champion is a native of Canton, Mississippi and has performed blues since the 1990s, releasing his first CD in 1998. A vocalist and harmonica player who mixes traditional and modern sounds, Champion and his band won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis earlier this year. His latest CD is Back In Mississippi: Live at the 930 Blues Café.

During the day on Saturday, the center will host a variety of enlightening discussions with entertainment sprinkled in, as musical experts and musicians discuss Mississippi’s rich musical heritage, the legacy of Jimmie Rodgers and the intertwined relationships of blues, rock, gospel and country music. Among the day’s panelists are Chris Ethridge, country-rock pioneer and member of The Flying Burrito Brothers, International Submarine Band and Willie Nelson’s touring band; Barry Mazor, music journalist for The Wall Street Journal and author of Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America’s Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century; and Scott Barretta with the Mississippi Blues Trail and host of Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s Hwy. 61. Barretta will also lead a round table discussion with the blues artists scheduled to perform in the evening.  


“Through my various work with the Blues Trail, the B.B. King Museum and folklore research for the Arts Commission, I’m fortunate to encounter all sorts of wonderful stories about Mississippi’s musical heritage, and I’m always glad when we can share these with the public. I’m able to do this with my radio show, but there’s nothing quite like sitting there with the artists right in front of you,” said Scott Barretta, host of MPB’s Hwy. 61 radio program and lead participant in the August 21 symposium.


Admission to the weekend events range from $10 to $25 each and may be purchased separately or as a package for $40, which includes Friday and Saturday performances, access to Sparkle & Twang exhibit, Saturday’s symposium and deli lunch. Tickets are on sale next week at the MSU Riley Center box office.

“Incorporating a weekend of activities to support the exhibit not only attracts more tourists to our community, it provides a unique opportunity to educate ‘our own’ about our rich musical heritage and the profound impact Jimmie Rodgers had on multiple genres of American music we enjoy today,” said Penny Kemp, marketing director for the MSU Riley Center. “This is a special chance to hear musical experts and musicians revered across the world share their perspectives on the melding of blues, rock, gospel and country music born right here in Mississippi.”

“People often point to Mississippians Charley Patton, Jimmie Rodgers, and Elvis Presley as the fathers of, respectively, Delta blues, country, and rock’n’roll, but none of them fit neatly into those categories, which were created by the music industry. What makes their music, and that of so many other Mississippi musicians, wonderful is how they freely drew upon different streams of music in creating their unique styles. They were ground breakers in the sense that they simply drew inspiration from the wide range of sounds they encountered, paying little mind to the social boundaries that otherwise divided people at the time,” added Barretta.


The Sparkle & Twang exhibit tells the story of country music icon Marty Stuart’s personal journey from Philadelphia, Mississippi to country music stardom. Illustrating the impact American roots music has had on fashion and popular culture over the past four decades, the exhibit also highlights Mississippi’s role in the development of American music and the convergence of country, gospel, blues and rock genres. Performance costumes, musical instruments, unpublished photographs, handwritten lyrics and personal letters of such legends as Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash & Bob Dylan are found throughout. Documentary videos featuring Marty Stuart are incorporated into the exhibit.


Housed at the MSU Riley Center, the exhibit is open Tuesday-Friday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and Saturdays, 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm, through Saturday, September 18, 2010.  Groups of twenty or more may schedule a tour of the exhibit and the MSU Riley Center’s historic theater, along with a viewing of the 20-minute documentary video featuring Marty Stuart. School groups are also encouraged to attend the exhibit. Study guide, “scavenger hunt” questions with answers found in the exhibit, and other resource materials pertaining to Mississippi’s musical heritage, the Civil Rights movement and Choctaw Indian culture are available.


“There has been an extraordinary amount of cooperation among public and private sector to support this exhibit and events surrounding it,” says Betty Lou Jones, board president of Jimmie Rodgers Foundation. “We were of course extremely pleased with the sold-out concert by Merle Haggard and Marty Stuart, and look forward to locals and tourists alike participating in the August 20th and 21st events. None of this would be possible without the support of our sponsors and partners.”



See detailed schedule for A Celebration of Mississippi Music Heritage attached.


View 20 minute documentary-style video with Marty Stuart that provides framework for the exhibit:


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