On March 7, the Hattiesburg Cultural Arts Center held Mississippi Musicians Day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. in and around the former Hattiesburg American building on Main Street. The event, held annually in March, is an official celebration of Mississippi Musicians.
Executive Director of Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame Peggy Brown is happy to share exactly why MS Musicians Day matters.
“Mississippi is the birthplace of America’s music. Blues started [here], country music started in Meridian with Jimmie Rodgers and the first legitimate rock and roll record was done in Hattiesburg in 1936 with Blind Roosevelt Graves,” Brown said. “Hattiesburg can legitimately claim to be the start of rock and roll.”
Many locals keep the history alive by studying and sharing it with others. During a panel called “Why is Mississippi the Birthplace of America’s Music,” Chris Goertzen, Ph.D., touched on the very first cases of influential music in the state.
“The oldest music we can associate with Mississippi is fiddling,” Goertzen said. “One of the earliest fiddlers we know of was Samuel Watkins. He traveled up and down the Mississippi River as a schoolteacher.”
According to another local authority on music history, Mik Davis, the key to Mississippi’s influence on music comes from the array of cultures that met in the state’s early days.
“[Blues’] past takes us back to Africa, mainly the country of Mali… We get this drony blues based on African music,” Davis said. “Because there’s so much traffic up and down the Mississippi River, we get a blend of all these cultures… As blues music travels, it becomes rock and roll. These musicians… speed it up… and make it what everybody enjoys today… Blues is the undercurrent that is in everything you hear musically.”
Harry Crumpler is the owner of T-Bones Records & Cafe. During the panel, he shared his opinion on Mississippi as the birthplace of music in America.
“[Mississippi] wasn’t always a comfortable melting pot, but we get something nice out of that from time to time, which most of the time is music,” Crumpler said. “There’s no place quite like it… Blues, folk music, country… all stem from eras that weren’t great for people: slavery, Jim Crow, the Great Depression; just destitution. A bad situation can’t help but shoot something beautiful out of it… with music we see that more than anything… Conway Twitty, Leontyne Price, Elvis Presley; part of the reason we get a great name is because we’ve cranked out some mega forces in music over the years.”
After the panel, everyone congregated in the empty warehouse for four hours of live Mississippi music. The acts ranged from the up-and-coming Red Meat Rhetoric, consisting of three 16-year-olds from Yazoo County, to well-known artists like Dr. John Wooton and Vasti Jackson. Bill Summers even made an appearance, playing percussion with Wooton.