University of Mississippi Blues Archive turns 25

OXFORD – The Mississippi blues tends to capture people’s hearts and minds.
“Initially for me, it was the honesty of the music,” said Greg Johnson, curator of the University of Mississippi Blues Archive. “It’s not pretending that a lot of nasty situations and things don’t exist, but coming out and addressing them head-on through the lyrics. At the same time, I think most blues is upbeat.”
For 25 years, people from around the country and the world have traveled to the Blues Archive in Ole Miss’ J.D. Williams Library to learn more about Mississippi’s native art form.
In celebration of that quarter century, the library’s Faulkner Room features “Still Got the Blues: A Silver Anniversary Edition.” The exhibit, which will run until August 2010, includes photos, posters, books, recordings and more from the archive.
“It basically fills the entire Faulkner Room,” Johnson said. “We purchased some MP3 players, and I’ve loaded them up with audio and video segments.
“You can look at a case on homemade musical instruments, and watch a video of Lonnie Pitchford demonstrating how to build a one-string guitar.”

‘No doctor’
Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and dozens of other blues masters are represented.
“You’ll see a certified copy of Robert Johnson’s death certificate,” the curator said. “One legend is the devil came back to claim his soul. Under contributing cause of death, it says, ‘No doctor.’”
The Blues Archive includes items donated by musicians, record company executives and scholars, and it regularly draws both fans and researchers.
“We get people from Germany, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Scotland, France, Denmark – all over,” Johnson said.
If you visit this month, you’ll have reason to return because some of the exhibits will be rotated throughout the year.
One short-term display focuses on the Black Swan label, which made recordings in the 1920s. You’ll also learn more about Charley Patton.
“Some of his records have ‘ie,’ some have ‘ey,’” Johnson said. “I think the most common is ‘Charley.’”
Items include original record contracts for Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson, rare recordings by Patton and Robert Johnson, as well as records from B.B. King’s personal collection.
In addition, artist Bill Beckwith, founder of Vulcan Studios in Taylor, has donated a life-size bronze bust of King to the Blues Archive.
If you get a chance, take time to study and admire “Still Got the Blues,” and remember to have fun, too.
“People don’t go out to blues clubs on a Saturday night to be depressed,” Johnson said. “It’s music to have a good time to.”

Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com.

Check it out
- What: “Still Got the Blues: A Silver Anniversary Exhibition”
- When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday until August 2010
- Where: The Faulkner Room of the University of Mississippi’s J.D. Williams Library
- Cost: Free
- Info: (662) 915-7753, www.olemiss.edu/depts/general_library/index.html
- Extra: An opening reception will be 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 22

M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal