As promised in last month's True Blue, we wanted share a little bit of our trip down to Indianola, Mississippi for the Sept. 13th opening of the B. B. King Museum. All I can say is you don’t have to die to make it to True Blue Heaven, just take Hwy. 61 to 49 to 82 West. Turn left on Sunflower Ave., and head south a few blocks to 2nd Street, and you be there. The rich, green Indian Bayou cuts through the middle of Indianola, and is just a little over a block north of the museum.
We arrived in Indianola on Friday morning, after driving down from Memphis. The two and one-half hour drive down I-55 took us to Hwy. 7 south and then west on Hwy. 82. From there it was only a half-hour drive into Indianola, passing through Greenwood – where legendary delta bluesman Robert Johnson played his last set at Three Forks.
Indianola is town of 12,000, and the southern hospitality abounds. The B. B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center is a 20,000 sq. ft., 14 million dollar facility, with its educational and outreach facility component still under development. The original cotton gin where B. B. worked as a young man has been converted into an attractive gallery and meeting space.
The B. B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center houses what has to be the most impressive blues music legacy in the country. Not only does it pay homage to the life and career of the legendary ‘King of the Blues' himself, but it also reflects the struggle of black men and women throughout the south – from the early history of the blues at the turn of the century through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. B. B. King survived and thrived, in spite of it all, and his story is truly an amazing one.
A complete multi-media experience, the museum incorporates the cotton gin where B. B. worked before heading north to Memphis to follow his dream with state of the art technology, and volumes of artifacts from B. B. King's personal collection. His entire personal recording studio, from his Las Vegas home, is now on display at the museum in Indianola, along with his numerous Grammy Awards, and several of his famous Gibson 'Lucille' guitars – including a prized red ES-345 model ‘Lucille’ from the 1960's.
During the afternoon on Friday we toured the exhibit gallery, which feature two theaters, multiple smaller screens kiosks – including one which documents life on the road with B. B. and his band, and is housed in a mock tour bus shell. The museum seamlessly traces the steps of B. B. King from his most humble beginnings on Sept. 16, 1925 just back down the road east a few miles near Itta Bena, to his days working as a tractor driver, on further up the road to Memphis and his days at WDIA radio, back and forth across the country with his band onboard the ill-fated ‘Big Red’ tour bus, and on stages worldwide. Since his career began back in1947, he sometimes played as many as 300+ dates a year.
Friday evening we were invited to attend a private donor event at the museum, with B. B. and his band performing, along with special guests Robert Cray, Keb Mo and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Saturday we attended the ribbon-cutting event, which featured city and state officials, entertainment industry figures, and international media – all on hand for the long-anticipated opening.
Shortly before noon, the museum opened its doors to an anxious public lined up for a few blocks outside – and remained open free of charge all day - for the entire community and all visitors to enjoy. It was a very proud day for the people of Indianola, for Executive Director Connie Gibbons and her museum staff, for the people of Mississippi, and for the American musical legacy that is the blues. Local and regional talent was featured all afternoon and well into the night in the big tent, as well as on the smaller stage inside the gift shop. Sunday featured a ‘gospel and grits’ brunch with some of the area’s finest gospel groups performing on the big tent stage. It was a celebration befitting a king, and living testament to the ever humble, true blue spirit of the ‘King of the Blues’ – B. B. King. For more information on the B. B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center, visit www.bbkingmuseum.org.
We headed back towards Memphis around noon on Sunday, and took the old blues highways 49 and 61 on our journey north. Passing by miles of cotton fields to Clarksdale and Tunica, and driving by the notorious Parchman Farm (Mississippi State Penitentiary), we were in the heart of the ‘land where the blues began’. In Memphis, before heading to the airport, we stopped for lunch at a Chinese buffet just across the street from Graceland. Forgive me, Elvis - I just feel like I should have had fried chicken instead, in your honor.
"Louie & Clark Expedition 2" – Louie Bellson & Clark Terry (Percussion Power)
Louie Bellson's brand new recording with the legendary Clark Terry, "Louie & Clark Expedition 2," is an incredible collection from two of America's jazz masters. Jazz historian Nat Henhoff describes the collaboration as "a celebration of the human spirit that keeps regenerating itself." Thirteen Bellson composition are featured, including "Davenport Blues" co-written by Louie Bellson and Remo Palmier, and "Ballade" which was co-written by Louie Bellson and Jack Hayes. Louie enlisted the help of legendary Tonight Show bandleader Tommy Newsom as arranger on four of the selections, including "Chicago Suite 1 – State Street Swing." Kenny Washington and Sylvia Cuenca are featured on drums. This CD is an essential addition to any big band fan’s collection. "Louie & Clark Expedition 2" is available on www.cdbaby.com/cd/bellson, as well as through Apple iTunes. For more information about Louie Bellson, please visit www.louiebellson.net.
Best news of all - Louie Bellson returns home to the Quad Cities for a special concert appearance with the Manny Lopez Band in the Redstone Room at RME on Oct. 15. For more information, visit www.rivermusicexperience.org or www.redstoneroom.com.
That's all there is, and there aint no more. Until we meet again at this crossroads, peace, love and blessings to everyone, and...
Local musician Ellis Kell writes about blues music both local and national in "True Blue", each month in the Entertainment section of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, online at www.qconline.com and www.wqad.com. He is Director of Programming & Education for the River Music Experience, a registered nonprofit helping build the Quad Cities music scene - through diverse live music and educational programming. He also hosts 'Currents at the Crossroads' musical segment of WQPT's Life & Times.firstname.lastname@example.org