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Sunflower River Blues Education Program

7th Annual Sunflower River
Blues Festival Education Program
August 11-13th, 1999, Clarksdale, Mississippi

The 7th Annual Sunflower River Blues Festival Education Program will take place August 11-13th, 1999, at the Delta Blues Museum, in downtown Clarksdale. It is made possible with a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council, and the support of the Delta Blues Museum and the Delta Blues Education Fund.

The highlight of the Education Program will be an oral history project "The New World 1930's - 1950's" Dr. Sylvester Oliver (Rust College), historian Gayle Dean Wardlow and Edward Komara (Director of Oxford's Blues Archive) will do live interviews with elderly residents who lived in Clarksdale's "New World" during the peak of its blues activity, in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Clarksdale natives and longtime residents Wade Walton, Uless Carter and Timothy Gates have been selected as interviewees.

The oral history project will be conducted Friday, from 12noon to 3:30pm, and the public is invited to attend. Time will be allowed for Q & A.

Oral history is a valuable asset towards self-knowledge, community knowledge, and the history of a region. It is necessary in a democratic society to make oral history available to the public. To fully appreciate oral history, it is further necessary to subject it to the scrutiny of academic discipline of the humanities.

There is a wealth of information available that is transmitted orally from generation to generation in the neighborhoods of Clarksdale. This project will make that knowledge available to the general public, including those who normally don't have access to this information, such as other residents of the City of Clarksdale and Coahoma County, and the festival goers of the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival.

Recording oral history is nothing new in Clarksdale and Coahoma County. As far back as 1901 when Charles Peabody made archelogical digs at nearby Stovall (and later reported the "weird" music he heard during the dig in the 1903 Journal of American Folklore), scholars and field workers have been interviewing and recording Mississippi Delta residents. (Peabody reported the blues to sound "weird in interval and strange in rhythm; peculiarly beautiful").

The tradition of research in Coahoma County is richly sprinkled with luminaries. The aforementioned Charles Peabody (Harvard University) was one of the first known documentors of blues music. In 1903 - 1905 W.C. Handy lived in Clarksdale and witnessed America's "rich traditions and inspirational fertility" and wrote about it in his Autobiography. Alan Lomax came from the Library of Congress in 1941 and made important recordings of Muddy Waters, Son House, and other "folk" musicians. Marion Post Wolcott and Walker Evans came as documentors for the WPA. During the 1960s, when the popularity of the blues was at a low, historians Gayle Dean Wardlow and William Ferris were in Clarksdale. Their work can be read about in Blues From the Delta (Ferris) and Chasin' the Devil's Music (Wardlow).

Organizers: Mae Smith and John Ruskey. For more information see museum staff Mae Smith or Billy Williams, or call them at (601) 627-6820, or

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Copyright by Larry Heyl and Vivian Heyl, 1997