The bronze piece notes the academic and cultural contributions of the university.
By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – Finally, Oxford is on the map – the Blues Trail map, that is.
Scores of people attending the University of Mississippi-hosted Blues Today Symposium on Friday witnessed the unveiling of a bronze marker titled “Documenting The Blues.”
The Mississippi Blues Trail’s 62nd marker honors the university’s “Living Blues” magazine, “Highway 61” radio show, Blues Archive and classes on the African-American musical genre whose roots are in Mississippi.
“We are here to acknowledge the hard work of people who have taken their interest and passion in the blues and turned it into something that shows appreciation and makes it easier to study, makes it easier to understand, gets right the story,” said Dr. Ted Ownby, director of the university’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, in front of which the marker stands.
One of those was Jim O’Neal, who with Amy van Siegel founded “Living Blues” magazine in a basement in Chicago in 1970.
“When ‘Living Blues’ started … we got contributions and support from blues fans all over the world, and none of us got paid for it for years,” O’Neal said. “It must be one of the longest-running music magazines in the country.”
Van Siegel thanked the blues musicians who’ve shared the stories of their music and their lives over the years with the magazine.
“I think ‘Living Blues’ has helped them, too,” she said.
Associate Professor of Music Greg Johnson said Ole Miss has more than 60,000 sound recordings along with thousands of papers and other tangibles in its Blues Archive, including a collection of B.B. King memorabilia.
“The university has a history of documenting the blues that goes way back – way beyond anybody we’re talking about in this symposium,” he said, noting that one student in 1905 recorded black folk music on the wax cylinders that were the high technology of the day.
“The Blues Archive has had a number of wonderful collections donated to us that really helped establish us as the place to go to study the blues, other than the Library of Congress,” he said.
After the unveiling ceremony, Pontotoc blues musician Terry “Harmonica” Bean performed for the audience, starting with “Come On, Don’t You Want to Go?”
The Blues Trail was established by the Mississippi Legislature and is governed by an 18-member Blues Commission, with administration by the Mississippi Development Authority to encourage fans of the blues to visit the state.
Larry Chapman, a retired history teacher from Ohio, was such a visitor.
“I’m originally from South Carolina and somehow got interested in Southern culture and then got hooked on the blues and got interested in black history,” he said. “I’ve been to some bluegrass festivals, some folk festivals, to take in the music, and it’s the same here in Mississippi – here to hear the blues.”