Folklorist Alan Lomax called the Mississippi Delta “the land where the blues began.” It produced such incredible and important musicians as Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters, and others who laid the foundation for what would one day become rock and roll. Some of these musicians migrated to Memphis, where the blues began developing a more urban sound, laying the groundwork for R&B and soul.
In Chasing the Blues, we’ll explore the music, history, and geography of the Mississippi Delta and Memphis. We’ll visit such Delta landmarks as the “blues crossroads,” the Delta Blues Museum, the Stovall Plantation (Muddy Waters), the Tutweiller train station where W.C. Handy first heard a farmhand singing the blues, Po Monkey’s juke joint, Ground Zero blues club, the B.B. King Museum, and Mississippi John Hurt’s cabin. In Memphis, we’ll visit Beale Street blues clubs, the Rock & Soul Museum, Sun Records, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Students may also choose to visit Graceland. Along the way we’ll hear live music, including a special session at the Center for Southern Folklore and a visit with musician/blues scholar Andy Cohen. We’ll also explore the relationship between the blues and the struggle for racial equality and civil rights, culminating in a visit to National Civil Rights Museum (in the former Loraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated).
Students will prepare for the trip by attending a 3-hour, Fall semester class meeting and by listening to representative blues recordings, watching video clips, and reading about the history of the Delta and the blues. During the trip, there will be evening sessions to discuss students’ observations and view films. There will also be a post-trip, Spring semester meeting. Students will keep a travel journal and will submit one short paper and a final project during the spring term.
- To increase awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the blues as a distinctly American musical form
- To explore relationships between the blues and the political, social, economic, and geographical context (the Mississippi Delta) in which it developed
- To explore the relationships between “black” and “white” American cultural forms and between folk-based and popular culture
- To increase understanding of the Civil Rights Movement
Mark Greenberg (instructor) is an educator, writer, musician, and media producer. He has been teaching courses in American vernacular music and culture at UVM since 2005. Previously, he taught American Studies and Humanities at Goddard College. He has produced recordings for Pete Seeger, Doc Watson and other major American folk and vernacular musicians.
Clyde Stats (TA) teaches courses on the blues, jazz, and rock and roll at UVM and Johnson State College. He is also a highly-regarded and versatile bass player.