I Am the Blues
The Black Legacy Project will travel to the Mississippi Delta in February 2023 to celebrate the rich history of Blues music and its impact on American culture. The Mississippi Delta is widely considered to be the birthplace of the Blues. The region has been home to more legendary Blues artists than any other place in the nation – Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Bessie Smith, and John Lee Hooker just to name a few. Delta Blues is the distinctly American music genre that inspired the sounds of some of today’s most popular music, including rock n' roll, soul, jazz, country music, and hip hop. In spite of the profound influence Delta Blues had in shaping the artistic and cultural landscape of America, the fruits of this influence (recognition & acknowledgment, career advancement, and financial wealth) were predominantly out of reach for the Black communities who created this art form. While the Blues would eventually go on to be performed by Black and White folks alike, it is important to honor the Black roots of the Blues, a genre that painted a humanistic picture of the trials, passions, and agency of Black Americans during the turn of the 20th century, many of which are still relevant today. It is this complex history that brings the Black LP to the region.
The theme for the Black LP MS Delta is I Am the Blues. In roundtable discussions and musical interpretations, Black and White community members will explore the origins of Blues music and its roots in the Black American experience, especially of those living in the Mississippi Delta. The project will unpack the enormous contributions of Black musicians to the American musical landscape via the blues, often overlooked and at times appropriated. Analysis of the songs “I Am the Blues ” by Muddy Waters and “Poor Man’s Blues” by Bessie Smith will foster a greater understanding of these contributions and the crediting of them to Black artists.
“I Am the Blues” is a song written and performed by two men who have both been called “the father of modern Chicago blues,” Willie Dixon (writer) and McKinley Morganfield aka Muddy Waters (performer). Both men were born and raised in the Mississippi Delta and their musical collaborations amass a catalog of the most important and influential blues songs recorded. The Rolling Stones got their name from a song by Muddy Waters. Released in 1969, the song “I Am the Blues” serves as a powerful expression of the roots that Blues music has in Black people and its role in poetically expressing the trials, passions, and agency of Black Americans.
“Poor Man’s Blues” is a song written and performed by the “Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith, in 1929. Her songs served as a soundtrack for the 20th century, highlighting the humanity, struggles, and desires of Black folks and speaking messages of liberation and power for Black women. While she wasn’t born there, Smith’s memory and legacy resides in the Mississippi Delta, as she died of her injuries from an auto accident at what would become the legendary Riverside Hotel (at the time the G. T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital) in Clarksdale, MS. “Poor Man’s Blues” can powerfully speak to the looming effect that poverty and marginalization leaves on Black communities, especially when communities have for generations not received the fruits of their physical and artistic labor.
For the Black Legacy Project MS Delta, local Black artists will reimagine “I Am the Blues” and local White artists will reimagine “Poor Man’s Blues.” Upon completion, local Black and White artists will work together to write and record a song that offers actionable steps for advancing equity across racial divides.