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Oxford Blues Festival to Hold Panel Discussions on Blues Revival

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Blues panel discussions, moderated by T. DeWayne Moore, will be held at the Oxford Blues Festival this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. at the Overby Center.

The first panel discussion, Claiming the Land: Cemeteries and the Blues, will be from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. The panel features the Killer Blues Headstone Project (KBHP) where the members finds unmarked graves of blues musicians in America to place headstones on.

Steve Salter, native of Whitehall, Missouri and KBHP president, created this organization in 1997 after a road trip to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival where he made a stop in Chicago to visit graves of blues musicians.

He said, “I wanted to pay my respects to those that had enriched my life with their music.”

He was shocked to find many lacked a grave marker and then decided to find headstones for them. He will discuss this passion at the panel this coming Saturday morning at the Overby Center.

When KBHP became a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) in 2009, 43 markers were placed from 2008 to 2014, according to its website. Their headstones can be viewed here.

“I keep adding more to my list as I become aware of them through research or notification from other blues fans. I feel driven to place as many as I can in my lifetime.” Steve said on his website.

The current board of directors at KBHP are passionate about preserving the legacy of the late musicians. Since the organization is nonprofit, purchasing merchandise can help them place more headstones on the unmarked graves of musicians long past.

Joining KBHP is Raymond ‘Skip’ Henderson, a New Jersey native and the founder of the Mount Zion Memorial Fund, Inc., based in Oxford. This organization derives its name from its incorporation in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1989 when it was then the Robert Johnson Mount Zion Memorial Fund Inc., as it prevented the foreclosure of Mt. Zion Church and placed a historic marker for Robert Johnson in 1991, a success with help from many such as Columbia Records.

Shortly after its success, the organization changed its name in early 1991 to show its mission: headstones for the late blues musicians in Mississippi. Mount Zion Memorial Fund honored the following late blues musicians: Charley Patton, Elmore James, Fred McDowell, Big Joe Williams, Joe Callicott, James ‘Son’ Thomas, Sam Chatmon, Eugene Powell “Sonny Boy Nelson,” and Tommy Johnson.

T. DeWayne Moore, executive director of Mount Zion Memorial Fund, is moderating the Blues Panel discussions this Saturday. He is bringing in an “important figure in blues revival in North Mississippi who had been out of the state for a long time – Bobby Ray Watson.”

From 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. Bobby Ray Watson and R.L. Boyce will have a discussion on the blues music revival especially in North Mississippi. According to Moore, Watson served as an important early organizer and producer of blues festivals and other events.

Moore said in his biography on Watson: “It all started at a hippie hangout in Memphis called the Bitter Lemon, which booked older blues musicians and attracted an audience of ‘vintage Southern beatniks,’ including world class photographer Bill Eggleston, musician Jim Dickinson, poet, writer, and intellectual Randall Lyon, musician Dan Penn, writer Stanley Booth, and musicologist Bill Barth, who Watson considered one the ‘greatest delta blues players’ of the blues revival. He found a home among all these kindred spirits and members of the Memphis County Blues Society, which organized a series of country blues/rock festivals at the Overton Park Shell from 1966 to 1970.”

Watson will have plenty to say on his rich blues experiences, and R.L. Boyce can match him in what will be an interesting discussion for all blues lovers. R. L. Boyce is a blues musician hailing from Como, Mississippi. At age 15, he released his first recording “Late at Midnight, Just a Little before Day,” on Traveling the Jungle: Negro Fife and Drum Band Music from the Deep South. Boyce grew as a skilled blues musician in North Mississippi under inspiration from nearby musicians like Fred McDowell and R.L. Burnside with instruction from Joe Townsend among other local musicians.

The panel is free of admittance at the Overby Center. The sixth annual Oxford Blues Festival is this weekend. For more information, visit its website at oxfordbluesfest.com.

Callie Daniels Bryant is the senior managing editor at HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at callie.daniels@hottytoddy.com.

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