Berklee Group Heading to Mississippi Delta

By
Allen Bush
April 8, 2013
The Berklee Mississippi Exchange Band will perform at the annual Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi. From left, Tyrone Dunning, Brandon Ferguson, professor Lenny Stallworth, Jason Hunter, and Andwele Coore.
Sian Wittke

 

A group of Berklee faculty, staff, and students will witness a life-changing moment when they award two Mississippi Delta high school students full scholarships for a summer music program at the Boston campus. This comes as an emotional conclusion to an inspiring weekend that also finds the travelers performing on festival stages, and gaining insight to local culture and history in small Mississippi Delta towns.

The annual Berklee Mississippi Music Exchange was established in 2008 to bring the college closer to the birthplace of American popular music. As of this trip, 15 Berklee students will have forayed into the Delta. To date, nine high school musicians from Mississippi have spent their summers at Berklee on full scholarships as a result of this program.

Clarksdale is the central location for activities. Scholarship auditions will be held for the second straight year at Clarksdale High School. Recipients will attend Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program where 1,000 instrumentalists and singers from around the world study and perform contemporary music. Each scholarship is valued at $8,000. Presiding over the auditions will be Lenny Stallworth, bassist and ensemble professor, and a native of Moss Point, Mississippi. His resume includes work with George Clinton, Maceo Parker, Roy Hargrove, and Kenny Garrett.

Stallworth also directs the Berklee Mississippi Exchange Band that is performing twice at Clarksdale’s annual Juke Joint Festival on Friday, April 12, at 7:00 p.m., at Hopson Commissary, and Saturday, April 13, at 7:00 p.m. at the Ground Zero Blues Club. The band includes students vocalist Jason Hunter, drummer Tyrone Dunning, guitarist Brandon Ferguson, and pianist Andwele Coore.

A second faculty and student group, the Berklee Country Blues Showcase featuring Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, will also perform at the Juke Joint Festival on Saturday, April 13, at 3:00 p.m. on the Wade Walton Stage. Guitarist Rishell and harmonica player Raines—an internationally renowned, award-winning blues duo—are country blues artists-in-residence in Berklee’s American Roots Music Program. Joining them will be student string players Bradley Bensko, Georgia English, Michael Kerr, Noah Wilson, Thomas Cantwell, and Sarah Rogowski.

Local scholars and musicians will guide the travelers to landmarks and museums to learn about life in the Delta. The itinerary includes a clinic with blues players "Cadillac" John Nolden and Bill Abel, a tour of the B.B. King Museum and neighboring sites, a walk through Greenwood’s Baptist Town, and a sharing of music and history at Little Zion Baptist Church in Money, where blues musician Robert Johnson was laid to rest.