Music and culture in Mississippi

Mississippi’s controversial history is very much reflected in the culture and the music in the area. It has a past where a great many people have endured great suffering and one of the ways to cope with harrowing conditions has been to write literature and create music.

Jimmie Rodgers

The repression of the Negro population in the form of slavery in the cotton fields lasted for centuries. Even when the country outlawed the practice Mississippi seemed reluctant in imposing equal civil rights to all of its citizens. The State endured heavy casualties in the Civil War and when the world price for cotton fell the area experienced real economic hardship. As the rest of the country recovered Mississippi was slow to follow suit as a result of its poor transport infrastructure.

Even when it has appeared that the state was entering periods of economic success nature has played its part in keeping Mississippi down. The regular flooding of the river along with tropical storms entering the region from then Gulf of Mexico has caused many disasters.

The great poverty being suffered by the black African population became the breeding ground for the creation of Blues music. The first reported blue music occurred at the start of the 20th century in both Texas and Mississippi. In Mississippi despite the racist atmosphere of the State, musicians had quite happily worked alongside each other. Jimmie Rodgers who was known as “the father of country music” worked alongside Chester Arthur Burnett in creating a sound that combined African music with white southern sounds that had originated from Scotland and Ireland.

A lot of the early blues songs reflected the hardships the black community were suffering in the State. The theme of the songs included the brutality of the police, the oppression suffered at the hand of the racist whites and the economic suffering the black Americans were experiencing. Blind Lemon Jefferson’s song “Rising high water blues” is the story of the 1927 Great Mississippi Flood.

Author William Faulkner

The history of blues music in the state today is recorded with the state creating a Mississippi Blues Trail which explains historic sites in the region that have played significant roles in the story of blues music. In Clarkson there is the Delta Blues Museum which attracts large numbers of visitors each year.

The State also has produced many great writers. With there being so much to write about it is hardly surprising that the region would produce both history and fiction writers. William Faulkner was born in New Albany in 1897 and he wrote short stories, novels and screen plays. His best known novels were set in a fictional county which was based on Lafayette County Mississippi where he spent most of his life .In 1949 he received the Nobel Prize in literature and two of his novels received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

Eudora Welty was born in Jackson in 1909 where she lived for the whole of her life. Her first short story to be published was “death of a traveling salesmen” and she later went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for “The Optimists Daughter”. One of the best current writers to hail from Mississippi is Jesmyn Ward. She has recently returned to live in DeLisle a town that she both loves and hates. Her novels reflect her growing up in the town trying to overcome the barriers of both race and class that were a feature of the community.

She has already won two national book awards for the novels “Salvage the bones” and “Sing, unburied, sing”. Her writings give a real sense of what it is like to live in Mississippi today and how the State is still struggling to rid itself of its racist past. However, despite her uneasy relationship with her home town it has not stopped her from moving back there to live and raise her children.

Music and literature have played a major role in recording Mississippi’s past.