Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival

Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival

Date Observed: Third Saturday in September
Location: Greenville, Mississippi

The Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival is held in Greenville, Mississippi, on the third Saturday in September. Sponsored by the Mississippi Action for Community Education, Inc., since 1978, the festival's purpose is to celebrate the birth of the blues in the region and raise funds for civil rights, anti-poverty, and educational programs. Blues enthusiasts from across the United States and around the world attend the festival.

Historical Background

Blues as a distinctive musical form evolved under nebulous circumstances in the latter 19th century. Proto-blues songs may have existed as early as the 1860s, but it is generally believed that blues sounds were codified in the 1890s among New Orleans street musicians. Blues then migrated to the rural deep South, where it took on a history of its own. This genre of music has been described in numerous ways: an emotional expression, poetry, or, technically, as music with "simple, usually three-chord progressions" that allows for improvisation.

Historically, the blues developed from slave music in the South, such as field chants and hollers, spirituals, and dance music. As the blues grew and spread, musicians performed lyrical monologues whose most prominent subjects were romantic complaints, sexual boasts, rambling by foot or rail, ballad-like tales of violent conflict, physical labor, humorous narratives, and more. Singers usually accompanied themselves on guitar or piano.

Early blues songs were passed on orally as folk songs. Educated composers, such as W. C. Handy, collected and revised some of this traditional material and published it under their own by-lines. In the 1920s the commercial music industry learned that southern black people (and many white people, too) had a taste for what it called "race music." Singers such as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith, and others recorded urbanized, jazz-inflected pop versions of blues, while rural folk-blues artists, such as Texas' Blind Lemon Jefferson and Mississippi's Charlie Patten - along with hundreds of their contemporaries in the southern countryside and African-American districts of such cities as Memphis, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia - recorded prolifically.

Creation of the Festival

The Mississippi Action for Community Education, Inc., organized the first Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival in 1978 as a fundraiser. The first festival was a simple community get-together in a rural village of less than 100 people with a flatbed trailer as a stage. As the festival has grown, it has encouraged the development of other festivals throughout the Delta and beyond.


Known as the second oldest blues festival in the nation, the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival has drawn people from countries around the world as well as top performers. B. B. King, Sam Chatmon, Son Thomas, Willie Foster, Ruby Wilson, Robert Cray, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King, Bobby Rush, and Denise LaSalle have all appeared at the festival in various years. Concerts are presented on two stages, and food and crafts vendors are also on hand for the festivities.

Contact and Web Site

Mississippi Action for Community Education, Inc. 119 Theobald St. Greenville, MS 38701 888-812-5837 or 662-335-3523; fax: 662-334-2939

Further Reading

"Blues." In Encyclopedia of Black America, edited by W. Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981. Titon, Jeff Todd. "Blues, The." In The African-American Experience: Selections from the Five-Volume Macmillan Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History , edited by Jack Salzman. New York: Macmillan, 1998.
References in periodicals archive ?
The Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival began in 1977 and is now the largest blues festival in the Delta and the oldest in the United States.
The trip wraps up in Greenville at the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival -- a celebration of the musical heritage created for the world in the Mississippi Delta.
Since 1977, the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival has been keeping Mississippians jamming to the beat of the blues.
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