Robert Johnson’s hometown honors centennial of his birth

By Bruce Sylvester

The centennial of blues master Robert Johnson’s birth approaches, and his hometown of Greenwood, MS, is doing his legend justice.    (I’ll talk in a future blog about the phenomenal box set, Robert Johnson: The Complete Original Masters: Centennial Editior that Sony Legacy is putting out in his honor.  It includes not only his original recordings remastered, but also a book, a DVD, and two CDs of his contemporary blues and white country blues musicians.   One of the discs contains tracks recorded on the same days in 1936-37 as Robert recorded.   Check www.thecompleterobertjohnson.com for  ordering info.    A basic two-CD set of Robert’s sessions, Robert Johnson:The Centennial Collection, will also be released.)

Below, I’ve cut and pasted a press release on his hometown events.  It came to me from publicist Lance Cowan.  Thanks, Lance.

GREENWOOD, Mississippi — In twenty-seven short years and just twenty-nine recorded songs, Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson left an indelible mark on American music.  Born into obscurity on May 8, 1911, a century later Johnson has become a household name among lovers of rock and blues music, a Grammy Award winner, and an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – all well worth celebrating.

So, on May 5-8, 2011, with the generous support of the Mississippi Development Authority Heritage & History Grant program, The Greenwood Convention & Visitors Bureau is presenting a series of community events and two free public concerts to commemorate the centennial of Johnson’s birth and help ensure that his musical and cultural legacy will last for another century.

“These events would not have been possible without the generous support from the Mississippi Development Authority Heritage & History Grant program,” said Paige Hunt, Executive Director of the Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The whole weekend is dedicated to the Blues. And local businesses are joining in the fun with blues-themed specials.”

Greenwood’s Official Robert Johnson Centennial Celebration also has the support of Robert Johnson’s living grandson, Steven Johnson. With his band, Steven Johnson will be opening the free public concert in Whittington Park on Saturday night and preaching the blues in a special open Community Church Service at Little Zion M.B. Church on Sunday morning, commemorating Robert Johnson’s life and legacy on May 8th, Robert Johnson’s actual birth date. Steven Johnson along with other members of the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation will be attending events throughout the weekend.

The Centennial Celebration weekend festivities open on Thursday, May 5th with Robert Johnson Exposed – an art exhibit at Cottonlandia Museum presenting some of the historical background on Robert Johnson for the new fan, as well as never before seen family pictures for the avid blues lover.

“Robert Johnson Exposed is an exhibition of artwork celebrating this renowned blues artist from the collection of Steve LaVere” said Cheryl Taylor, Executive Director of Cottonlandia Museum. “We love the balance of art and education that will be in this exhibit. Robert Johnson has a fascinating global legacy and we are excited to explore his life with this exhibit that will remain open throughout the summer.”

As it should be, the cornerstone of the Centennial Celebration will be live music in Greenwood on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. “It was really important for us to create an opportunity for people to come out and enjoy free live music. What better way to commemorate and celebrate one of Mississippi’s most famous musicians – Robert Johnson,” said Hunt.

On Thursday night, The Alluvian Hotel Happy Hour will feature live blues and specialty cocktails.

Friday night, May 6th will see the first of two nights of free public concerts in Greenwood’s Whittington Park. Friday evening will open with live solo acoustic versions of many of Robert Johnson’s signature pieces by renowned blues musician and historian Scott Ainslie, followed by local blues greats Jay Lang and the Devils Due, and Bobby Rush.

For blues enthusiasts, Saturday’s events begin at 11:00 a.m. with an expert panel on Robert Johnson’s Life & Legacy with Steve LaVere, Scott Ainslie, Scott Barretta and Vasti Jackson, moderated by Jim O’Neal, Research Director of the Mississippi Blues Trail. Guided tours of historic blues locations around Greenwood and Leflore County with Delta Blues Legend will be given on both Friday and Saturday. Advance reservations required.

For the food lover, The Viking Cooking School will offer a special Delta Dinner cooking class featuring the best of Delta cuisine. The menu will include Delta hot tamales, catfish, mile high coconut meringue pie, fried dill pickles and sweet tea. Advance reservations required.

Saturday’s celebrations will also include the continuing history and art exhibit Robert Johnson Exposed at Cottonlandia Museum. The show will detail Robert Johnson’s life and features never before seen original album art, family pictures, and artistic interpretations of the legends that came to surround Johnson in the years after his untimely death.

Saturday evening’s free public concert in Whittington Park will feature David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, the Kenny Brown Band, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Keb’ Mo’ and The Warren Haynes Band. All these musicians have connections to Robert Johnson or his music, some closer than others. A friend of Johnson’s, Edwards was with him on that hot August night in 1938 when he was poisoned. A member Gov’t Mule, Haynes played at Robert Johnson’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He is also a member of the Allman Brothers Band.

“We are thrilled that all of these great musicians will be playing in Greenwood!” says Ms. Hunt. “We encourage people to check our website for links to all our artists, additions to the musical line-up, and other events for the weekend,” said Hunt. That website is www.greenwoodms.org/robertjohnson

And if your feet and body get tired from all this celebrating, Thursday, May 5th – Sunday, May 8th, the Alluvian Spa is offering a 60-minute Soulful Massage for $100 and their Bluesberry Spa services – including facials, body scrub and wrap, and a mani/pedicures. Advance reservations required.

For information on all the Official Robert Johnson Centennial Celebration events, accommodations, restaurants, and a map of Greenwood, please visit their website, www.greenwoodms.org, or contact the Greenwood Convention & Visitors Bureau at 662-453- 9197.



About Bruce Sylvester

Bruce Sylvester is a regular contributor to Goldmine magazine.

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