Welcome to Mississippi! In this, the second-largest ever issue of LB, we revisit the blues in Mississippi and the expansive Mississippi Blues Trail. In 1997 we produced our first Mississippi issue, The State of the Blues in Mississippi (LB #132), and in 2004 we produced our second Mississippi issue, Mississippi Blues Today! (LB #172), which was the largest issue ever. That same year the Mississippi Blues Commission was founded and the decision was made in 2006 to develop a Mississippi Blues Trail (MBT) with permanent markers honoring the people, places, and themes of the state’s rich blues history. One hundred and eighty markers later, we have decided to revisit the blues in Mississippi and provide readers with a travel guide to the markers and some of the many exciting experiences visitors can have while driving the back roads of Mississippi.
With the generous support of Malcolm White and the Tourism Division of the Mississippi Development Authority (Visit Mississippi), I once again tapped my dynamic blues duo of writer Scott Barretta and photographer Bill Steber to tackle the project. Several months, 5,000 miles, 40,000 words, and thousands of photos later we have developed a user-friendly guide for adventurers traveling the Mississippi Blues Trail.
We have divided the state into five regions and provided nearly two dozen driving routes for exploration. Using the Mississippi Blues Trail Markers as anchors we have identified hundreds of destinations throughout the state including museums, juke joints, festivals, famous gravesites, and over 100 places to eat great southern food. Mississippi is a vast, beautiful, exotic, and mysterious place, and my hope is that you will use this issue to dive in and explore its many facets for yourself. Get off the highway, get on the back roads, discover the roots of the blues, and experience the present-day living blues tradition in Mississippi. Along the way, grab you some fried chicken, turnip greens, and black-eyed peas, or how about a pig’s ear sandwich? Come on down and have your own adventure along the Mississippi Blues Trail.
This issue of LB is also available as a digital edition, and for the first time ever we have created digital playlists to go along with the song lists our venerable writer Jim DeKoster has come up with for each region. Open the digital edition on your device, click on the playlist, and listen to the music as you explore the various regions of the state. Watch for free downloads of the digital edition at www.VisitMississippi.org and on our LB Facebook page. Also watch our Facebook page for further updates on Mississippi Blues Trail events.
The descriptions of the MBT markers in this issue offer basic directions, but visitors are also encouraged to use the MBT website (www.msbluestrail.org), which features full text of all the markers, local maps, the Mississippi Blues Trail educational curriculum, general information about museums and festivals, and 17 short films made exclusively for the MBT by Robert Gordon and David Leonard.
Travelers will also want to download the free MBT application for Android and iOS portable devices, which features an itinerary builder, GPS-based directions, and the MBT marker text and videos.
I would like to express special thanks to the many people who helped make this issue possible. First and foremost the Tourism Division of the Mississippi Development Authority and director Malcolm White for providing the funding to make this project possible—also Mary Margaret White for driving the effort in that office. Allan Hammons, Wanda Clark, Hilda McKibbon, and Megan Slaughter of Hammons & Associates of Greenwood for all of their expertise and help. Jim O’Neal, Gene Tomko, Melanie Young, Jim DeKoster, Leslie Hassel, Amy Evans, Tom Speed, and Camilla Aikin for their contributions to the issue. Susan Lee for pulling this massive amount of text and visuals together and turning it into the beautifully designed issue that it is. And of course Scott Barretta and Bill Steber for their tireless work on the project.
Sadly, with this issue we say good-bye to “the voice of Living Blues,” associate editor Katie Blount. Katie was recently appointed as the director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. As our copy editor for 20 years, Katie has made us all sound good, and for former editor Scott Barretta and myself, she really taught us how to write and edit professionally. Katie’s job has been to take all of the many voices that appear in LB and coax them into a consistent tone and style. Not any easy job. We’ll miss you, Katie—you will forever live on in the em dash.
Brett J. Bonner