Year three. The principal mission of the trip to the most Southern place on earth remains the same: finding two young musicians qualified for the Five-Week Summer Performance Program and awarding them full scholarships. What is new, is that now I have company down here. No longer is it just I, Allen Bush/Berklee PR guy/deep fan of Mississippi music and culture, but now a team of students, faculty and another administrator.
See, I took a trip down here in December with Bill Banfield, director of Africana studies. He and I met with a bunch of people, from current collaborators Shelley Ritter of the Delta Blues Museum and Steven Johnson at the Robert Johnson Blues Museum, to new contacts including musicians like Ben Payton and Mississippi Blues Commission member Edgar Smith. Bill and I got to talking while sitting at the Ground Zero bar in Clarksdale about how to expand the scholarship project to include opportunities for Berklee students and professors, and how we could connect some of these other people that we were meeting into some kind of larger initiative.
Bill challenged me to name the project and write a mission statement. The word “exchange” was rumbling around my brain in the early weeks of 2010, until I found a place for it in what would become the reply to Bill’s challenge: “The Berklee Mississippi Music Exchange develops opportunities to exchange music, education and culture between Berklee, the Mississippi Delta and other parts of the state.” And from that moment, it was game on for reorganizing and expanding to what we have brought to the Delta this weekend, April 15 – 18.
To date, we’ve had four students come to the Summer program from Mississippi on scholarship. Johnson and Payton have lectured or performed on campus. On this trip, a band of Berklee students and professors will perform twice at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, with local students sitting in. The exchange also takes us on a guided tour of blues and civil rights sites in the Delta.
What started as a solo trip on a narrow road has expanded to two lanes brining people back and forth with music, hopes and dreams, history, legacies and mind-opening discussions. Steps ahead, yet Bill keeps reminding, “This is just the beginning.”