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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Clarksdale in Coahoma County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)
 

Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival

 
 
Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival Marker (Front) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, October 18, 2015
1. Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival Marker (Front)
Inscription.
Front
The Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival, a preeminent showcase for homegrown Mississippi talent, began in 1988 as a promotion to draw area shoppers to downtown Clarksdale. The festival's dedication to presenting authentic blues soon made it a renowned attraction for blues enthusiasts from around the world, as local favorites began sharing the stage with an international cast of guest stars.

Rear
The Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival, a preeminent showcase for homegrown Mississippi talent, began in 1988 as a promotion to draw area shoppers to downtown Clarksdale. The festival's dedication to presenting authentic blues soon made it a renowned attraction for blues enthusiasts from around the world, as local favorites began sharing the stage with an international cast of guest stars.

The Sunflower River Blues Festival evolved from the free Holiday Music Festivals sponsored in 1986 and 1987 by the Downtown Association of Clarksdale as a local business promotion. In 1988 the merchants, with the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations, opted for a full-fledged festival, initially called the Sunflower Riverbank Blues Festival, featuring Otis Rush, James “Son” Thomas, Jessie Mae Hemphill, and others on three different stages. A biracial group of volunteers
Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival Marker (Rear) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, October 18, 2015
2. Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival Marker (Rear)
with a mission “to preserve, promote, perpetuate and document the blues in its homeland” formed the nonprofit Sunflower River Blues Association (SRBA) in 1990 and produced the annual festival at various locations around town until the newly constructed Delta Blues Museum (DBM) stage became its primary base. The North Delta Academy of Gospel Music presented its first festival in 1992 and joined with the SRBA in 1993 to form the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival. As a showcase for Mississippi Delta talent in a town seeped in blues history and Southern hospitality, the festival earned widespread acclaim from the worldwide blues community as well as from travel organizations and news media.

During its first twenty-five years the festival presented many acts from around the country and overseas, including musicians from Clarksdale's sister city, Notodden, Norway, but always maintained its primary focus on blues, soul, and gospel performers with roots in Mississippi. Local bassist Wesley Jefferson's band played at every festival prior to his death in 2009, and others who appeared numerous times included the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band (led by Othar Turner and later by his granddaughter Sharde Thomas), Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr, James “Super Chikan” Johnson, Wade Walton, Eddie Cusic, T-Model Ford, C. V. Veal, Pat Thomas, Foster “Mr. Tater”
Posters from 10 years of festivals. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, October 18, 2015
3. Posters from 10 years of festivals.
Wiley, Johnnie Billington, Arthneice Jones, Lonnie Shields, John Mohead, Lonnie Pitchford, Robert “Bilbo” Walker, Jimbo Mathus, and Terry “Big T” Williams. Among the repeat headliners were Bobby Rush, Charlie Musselwhite, Denise LaSalle, Otis Clay, Latimore, and Nathaniel Kimble.

The festival played a key role in Clarksdale's development into a mecca for blues tourists and media, building on cornerstones laid earlier by local juke joints, Wade Walton's barbershop, and the Delta Blues Museum. More businesses began courting the blues trade, as did new events such as the annual Juke Joint Festival. Clarksdale provided city support for the festival and passed or amended laws to accommodate festival and nightclub activity, and Coahoma County established a tourism commission in 1991. To recognize the efforts of those who have worked on behalf of blues and gospel, the festival began presenting an annual Early Wright Award in 1991 in honor of the legendary Clarksdale deejay, followed by the Julius Guy Award, named for the co-founder of the gospel festival.
 
Erected 2012 by the Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 157.)
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail marker series.
 
Location. 34° 12.029′ 
Festival stage and the marker and Delta Blues Museum in background. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, October 18, 2015
4. Festival stage and the marker and Delta Blues Museum in background.
N, 90° 34.372′ W. Marker is in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in Coahoma County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Blues Alley and Yahoo Avenue. Click for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1 Blues Alley, Clarksdale MS 38614, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Delta Blues Museum (within shouting distance of this marker); Wade Walton (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); W. C. Handy (about 400 feet away); Ike Turner (about 400 feet away); Sam Cooke (about 600 feet away); WROX Radio (about 700 feet away); Aaron Henry (about 800 feet away); Dr. Aaron Henry (about 800 feet away). Click for a list of all markers in Clarksdale.
 
Also see . . .
1. History of the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival. (Submitted on October 28, 2015, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
2. Festival Chronology of the Past 28 Years. (Submitted on October 28, 2015, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
 
Categories. African AmericansArts, Letters, MusicEntertainment
 
Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival stage. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, October 18, 2015
5. Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival stage.
View looking west towards Delta Blues Museum and markers. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, October 18, 2015
6. View looking west towards Delta Blues Museum and markers.
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 208 times since then and 19 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on , by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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