About four years ago, I took a seminar taught by David Flanagan of Ithaca College, that introduced me to Blues music and the Mississippi Delta. As I looked through my old course materials, I was surprised to find many of the recordings saved on my computer. This class not only introduced me to a new genre of music, but it taught me how music can teach us about the history and culture of a region.
The origin of Blues music is debated, but the Delta is widely accepted as the home of the Blues. This music documents the experience of southern African Americans who were facing racial discrimination, poverty, and migration due to a lack of economic opportunity. Though the Blues is generally associated with emotions such as regret and sadness, they also reflect the themes of overcoming adversity, dealing with frustrations, and even having fun. The Blues is about emotion, whether it is sadness or joy.
Soon, I will have the opportunity to travel to the Delta, where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in order to play the guitar the way he did. During my time there, I expect to hear echos of the deep emotion that embodies the Blues. In the Delta, my team and I will be conducting qualitative interviews with residents to understand the social, economic, and health needs of the community. Our goal is to disseminate these findings to organizations that want to serve this area so that they have a better understanding of the needs of this region.
Though half of the population has left since 1940, I expect that I will hear a lot about the resilience of those who stayed and the pride that they have in their community. For now, I plan to keep my eyes and ears open and take the time to absorb everything I can from this experience. I encourage you to open your ears and listen to some Blues music, and tell me what you hear.