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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Bobby "Chickenhead" Rush performs at Festival, 1998
Bobby "Chickenhead" Rush performs at the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival, 1998. Photo courtesy MACE/Delta Arts Projects

Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival

Founded in 1978, this annual festival attracts 20,000 people, who come to listen to local, regional and national blues artists and celebrities. As the flagship activity for the Delta Arts Project, the festival is the state's single largest one-day event, and the largest tourist attraction in the state.

The Delta Arts Project is a regional organization created in 1977 by the Mississippi Action for Community Education Incorporated (MACE) to preserve and promulgate the art and cultural heritage of Mississippi Delta people. Its mission is to increase the quality and accessibility of American cultural arts and humanities programming for the predominantly black, rural poor of the delta region.

MACE was established in 1967 by civil rights activists and community organizers to empower African-American poor and disadvantaged citizens by developing their individual and collective capacities to effect socioeconomic improvement. MACE considers the celebration of the history and heritage of African Americans in the delta to be an integral part of empowerment efforts. The centerpiece of cultural preservation is the festival, which began on the back of a flatbed truck in Freed Village. Held the 3rd Saturday each September, the Mississippi Delta Blues & Heritage Festival is the second oldest blues festival in the country, and the oldest and largest blues festival in the South. Along with music, home style cookin', arts, crafts, and novelties are offered.

The Mississippi Delta, a wedge-shaped region in northern Mississippi between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, is generally believed to be where the blues originated. The area has spawned an enormous number of musicians, many of whom now have international reputations. The conditions that gave birth to the blues-poverty, racism, and inhumane working situations-led many musicians to leave the state as soon as they could. Most traveled North, heading first to Memphis, and then to urban centers, such as Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit. Nonetheless, the blues did not vanish from the Mississippi countryside, and even today the music can still be heard in juke joints in a number of towns.

Music is played on three festival stages, including gospel and jukehouse stages. Special tribute to blues legends is paid during each festivals Among these have been W.C. Handy, Elmore James, Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Howlin' Wolf, Son House, Otis Spann, and John Hurt. Performing artists have included B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, Bobby Rush, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, Sam Myers, Johnny Winter, the Stable Singers, the Nighthawks, Muddy Waters, Sam Chatmon, Furry Lewis and Big Joe Williams.

Documentation includes newspaper articles, 20 slides, 19 photographs, souvenir programs books, several T-shirts and caps, a record, brochures, flyers, and other promotional material.

Originally submitted by: Bennie G. Thompson, Representative (2nd District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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