Through music, art and stories, the blues that compromise the North Mississippi Hill Country sound will come alive this Friday night at One Memphis Street in Hernando.
Stark but elegant black-and-white photography by William Ferris captures the worn, creased faces of blues legends like Otha Turner, whose image joins a pantheon of blues greats in an ongoing exhibit at the DeSoto Arts Council. Yet, it's hearing stories about the legends firsthand that truly make them come alive.
This Friday night and back by popular demand, organizers of the Front Porch Jubilee and volunteers with the DeSoto Arts Council will present A Blues Jubilee, An Evening of Blues, Barbecue and Art at One Memphis Street. A cocktail hour will begin at 6 p.m. at the DeSoto Arts Council across the street from the One Memphis Street venue.
Following the cocktail hour, blues lovers and art patrons alike will stroll across the street to One Memphis Street to hear firsthand what it meant to grow up around a legend like Otha Turner, whose famous face was captured by William Ferris, one of the creators of the Center For the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi and known to public radio listeners as “the blues doctor.”
"We are excited to have Sharde Thomas, the granddaughter of the legendary Otha Turner," said Steven Pittman, the driving force of the Front Porch Jubilee and one of that event's three co-founders. "We get to hear her stories about Otha and her living out in Tate County and learning to play the fife. She is a master of playing the fife. There aren't many artists like her around. After the interview, Sharde and her fife and drum band will march through the crowd there at the venue. Then, we will have Cody Dickinson and his group, The Cody Dickinson Project, play," added Pittman of Dickinson, a founding member of the Grammy-nominated North Mississippi Allstars.
"Cody grew up here and went to Hernando city schools and graduated from Hernando High School," Pittman said. "He has put together a real special group that will play after Sharde's interview and performance. It's just an awesome line-up."
After last year's success, blues lovers have eagerly anticipated a reprise of the musical/interview format.
"We are close to a sell-out," said Pittman. "This is a special joint effort between the DeSoto Arts Council and the Friends of the Von Theater, whose goal is to eventually restore the old theater when Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Bond and others once played."
Pittman's interview with North Mississippi Hill Country torch bearer Kenny Brown was so successful last year that Pittman and Margaret Yates, DeSoto Arts Council Executive Director, decided to utilize the same format again.
"We did this last year with Kenny Brown, who is a native of Nesbit, and is well-known in blues circles," Pittman said. "It was fascinating to hear him talk about his experiences and so we decided to keep this going. We will return to the gin next year and will continue this Friday night event because we think it allows you as the listener to get a little bit closer to the artist. You get a chance to see them in a little bit different environment. One Memphis Street is such a super nice place. It's a great asset to Hernando and a great event venue. In this setting, you get a chance to get up close and personal."
For Margaret Yates, Friday night's event is akin to an episode of VH1's Behind The Music, where the stories behind the music are told and explored.
"What I feel is important about this event is that you are sharing stories and hearing the music and how it all got started," Yates said.
Rita Ray, a longtime DeSoto Arts Council member said the music is going hand-in-hand with preservation efforts to preserve the old Von Theater and the old Clifton Gin, site of the Front Porch Jubilee annual concert, held in late September or early October of each year.
"It's amazing to see where we were and how far we've come," Ray said. "We have to have an understanding of our history and where we came from to truly appreciate where we've been and where we are going."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.