Digging up roots: American music history endures

Digging up roots: American music history endures
May 13,2011
Lici Beveridge

I have been to see the New Harmonies exhibit at the historic Train Depot twice already.

The first time I went to see the exhibit.

The second time was to hear musician George Winston talk about harmonica music and perform some songs on harmonica.

About 75 people attended Winston's performance Thursday. I think I learned more about harmonica music than I ever thought possible.

There's a lot to playing the harmonica, I've learned, including how to play drones and melodies at the same time, and how the melody is usually played on the higher notes.

Not that I'm ever going to play harmonica - especially on that level.

But the harmonica is one of the few instruments that is synonymous with traditional American music - the focus of the New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music exhibit.

I've not often thought about American music history - at least not much further back than the 1950s and '60s when Elvis, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones hit the charts.

Oh wait. The Beatles and the Stones aren't American, so what exactly is American music?

Oh yeah, there's folk artists like Joan Baez and Woody Guthrie.

There's Pete Seeger, who performed in Hattiesburg in the turmoil of the 1960s in support of civil rights.

Wait - what about the blues? That's American music, too! And that started right here in the Mississippi Delta, didn't it?

Juke joints all over Mississippi were full of the blues.

Some of the better-known blues artists include Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and lots of guys named T-Bone.

And I didn't know there were different styles of blues. Yeah, I know there are the Delta, Chicago and Memphis blues camps. But there also is a difference between urban blues and rural blues. Go figure.

Rock 'n' roll is American music, too, and the first known recording of rock 'n' roll happened right here in Hattiesburg - in 1935! Seriously. Check it out for yourself.

The more I looked at the exhibits on display, the more I realized our American music roots run deep.

Country music - Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Mississippi's own Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music - how can I forget about that?

Gospel music is purely American, too. Mahalia Jackson is the Queen of Gospel, much the same as Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul - another form of American music.

Cajun and Zydeco are definitely American styles of music, we can't forget about our next door neighbors.

There are many more forms of American music than I can remember, and it's all to be found at the New Harmonies exhibit.

I didn't think I took away from the exhibit as much as I did, but looking back, I learned a lot.

I plan to go back again for the closing reception that will feature one of our more prominent local musicians, Vasti Jackson.

I hope to see some of you there.
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