Excited About the Blues

Excited About the Blues
May 8, 2010

Jackson resident Ruby Watkins tapped her feet to the beat as the sounds of Sonny Boy Williamson played during the last First Friday Forum of the season. The forums will resume this fall.

The Jackson Arts Council sponsored Friday's forum held at First United Methodist Church.

Origins of the blues, rockabilly and country folk music in West Tennessee were the focus of this month's forum, which served as a preview for next month's 19th annual Shannon Street Blues and Heritage Festival in downtown Jackson.

David Evans, a specialist in American folk and popular music, was the keynote speaker. Evans won a Grammy in 2003 for Best Album Notes. He performs blues music and plays guitar.

Evans said Williamson was one of the most successful blues artists to come out of West Tennessee.

Williamson was a part of the growing trend in the 1930s and 1940s, when artists left the area for larger cities to gain more success.

But Williamson life ended suddenly just as his star was rising, Evans said.

"He was mugged and murdered as he was heading home in Chicago," Evans said.

Watkins, who had listened to Williamson before, said she had never heard about how he died.

Evans said another example of a West Tennessee artist that left the area and obtained success on a large scale is Tina Turner.

Evans played Turner's "Nutbush City Limits," a song she wrote while she was still married to Ike Turner.

Other artists in the area, Evans said, have seen success without leaving.

"Denise LaSalle settled in Jackson and continues to perform," he said.

Watkins said listening to the blues reminds her of simpler and better times.

"There was less crime back in those days," she said. "When I hear this music, I think of the old days."

Listening to music from various blues artists made Watkins ready for the upcoming Shannon Street Blues and Heritage Festival.

"I'm going to be there," Watkins said.
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