(CLEVELAND, MISSISSIPPI) — To further establish its standing as the academic home of the blues, Delta State University is proud to announce the creation of the International Delta Blues Project.
The three-tiered project will feature an International Conference on the Blues, development of a blues curriculum, and a Blues Leadership Incubator, which will align with the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi.
“Delta State’s vision of becoming the academic center for the blues is gaining traction,” said President William N. LaForge. “I am pleased to announce that Delta State has received a $598,000 grant over a three-year period from the Robert M. Hearin Foundation to support the International Delta Blues Project.”
The Hearin Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Jackson, has supported Delta State through numerous grants over the years. The organization backs Mississippi higher education and economic development.
Robin Boyles, director of the Office of Institutional Grants at Delta State, said the grant would provide numerous opportunities for a number of departments on campus.
“This multi-faceted project will increase opportunities for academic study in a multitude of disciplines, as well as create jobs in various sectors of the creative economy,” said Boyles. “We are grateful to the Hearin Foundation for the continued support they have provided throughout the years.”
Charles McAdams, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said Delta State deserves to be coined the academic center of blues studies. Progress is underway to establish a blues studies minor that could move into an academic major for students wanting to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees. The hope is to bring visiting scholars, lecturers, artists and artists‐in‐residence to the Delta to teach and learn the blues.
“Delta State University is the rightful place for an academic study of the blues and blues culture,” said McAdams. “We are fully committed and uniquely positioned to be the center for blues studies in the world. The delta blues is a separate genre of music that has influenced many other styles of music and continues to be a prominent style on its own today.
“This grant will enable us to systematically approach the development of a blues curriculum. We will carefully design a multidisciplinary approach to the study of the blues, which will include music, art, literature, history, economics and social justice.”
Co-chairs of the International Conference on the Blues, Don Allan Mitchell and Shelley Collins, are thrilled to see support for this unique programming.
“Shelley and I were excited to be part of the Hearin grant proposal team,” said Mitchell. “When we looked for models for a blues studies curriculum, we kept two ideas in mind. The first was that we wanted to build on the strengths of Delta State, such as our music department and our Delta Music Institute, but also The Delta Center for Culture and Learning and the wide array of faculty who are interested in interdisciplinary studies.
“Secondly, we wanted to make sure that current faculty would have opportunities to experiment with teaching the blues in a variety of contexts. Our current Delta State faculty and students will first see the Hearin Foundation’s generosity at work at the International Conference on the Blues scheduled for October 6-7.”
The annual conference will feature a full schedule of workshops, presentations and performances that take not only an academic approach to the blues, but also one that is accessible to even the casual blues fan.
Topics of interest will include: African American musical tradition; influence on American music and culture; the blues; folklore; history; ethnicity; the Delta and more.
Featured speakers and performers will include GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli; GRAMMY-winning artist Alvin Youngblood Hart; and Scott Barretta, host of the “Highway 61 Radio Show” for Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
While the focus will be academic, a unique feature will be the Juke Joint on the Stage. This sampler concert/jam session will include local musicians, visitors and scholars. Local artists interested in performing are asked to email [email protected]
This interdisciplinary conference will be free to Delta State faculty, staff and students, with many opportunities for the Delta State family to learn about the Delta’s rich African American blues tradition.
The third tier of the project — the Blues Leadership Incubator — allows for community outreach and engagement through public lectures and workshops that have practical applications in entrepreneurship and economic development. It also aligns with the great anticipation for GRAMMY Museum Mississippi. Slated to open on Delta State’s campus in 2015, the museum will become only the second GRAMMY museum in the world outside of Los Angeles.
“With the opening of GRAMMY Museum Mississippi in 2015, and the anticipated tourism that will accompany this opening, it is imperative that Delta State provides opportunities for local business owners to gain insight and knowledge on how best to promote and portray the blues, and to be able to communicate its rich tradition,” said LaForge. “The project will maximize Delta State’s existing partnerships with entities such as the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi Blues Trail to bring experts to the region to engage local businesses and entrepreneurs in promoting and providing positive Delta‐centric tourism experiences.”
LaForge added that Delta State is eager to enhance its role as a beacon of opportunity in the region.
“Delta State University’s International Delta Blues Project is poised to have a significant impact on the Mississippi Delta in many critical areas, including an increase in tourism to the Delta, a revival in the interest of the blues, increased opportunities for study and employment in the creative economy, and growth in the number of economic partnerships created.
“With the engagement of the Hearin Foundation as a partner, Delta State is ready to launch this creative and meaningful project. We look forward to the effort and support ahead as we realize the vision of becoming the academic center of the blues.”