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Delta Symposium XVIII: Roots and Generations will be held April 18-21 at Arkansas State University


Arkansas State University presents its 18th annual Delta Symposium from Wednesday-Saturday, April 18-21 on the ASU campus in Jonesboro, Arkansas. “Roots and Generations” is the theme for this year’s Delta Symposium. The conference brings scholars, students, musicians, and artists from across the nation to the ASU campus to explore and experience the Delta’s history and culture. All Delta Symposium events are free and open to the public.

The event is sponsored by ASU’s Department of English and Philosophy with additional on-campus support, including a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Most events will take place in the Mockingbird Room on the third floor of ASU’s Carl. R. Reng Student Union, 101 North Caraway Road, Jonesboro.

The symposium will commence at 12 noon on Wednesday, April 18, with a screeni
ng of the new documentary film "We Juke Up In Here: Mississippi's Juke Joint Culture at the Crossroads" in the Mockingbird Room. Produced by Roger Stolle of Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art, Inc., Jeff Konkel of Broke and Hungry Records, and Damien Blaylock, this documentary is a portrait of Delta blues clubs in western Mississippi.

At 1:15 p.m., ASU Heritage Studies doctoral students will present the symposium’s first panel session. Richard Hartness, Anita Reddig, Emmett Powers, and Charles Baclawski will make presentations that focus on the interplay between individual experience and community life in the Delta region.

Wednesday’s activities will continue with a special screening of the documentary film "Americana Women: Roots Musicians/Women's Tales and Tunes,” at 3:30 p.m. in the Mockingbird Room. Filmm
aker and musician Dyann Arthur of the MusicBox Project in Mill Creek, Washington, will show her new movie that provides portraits and performances of musicians who are currently contributing to contemporary roots music. Women musicians from Arkansas and the Delta are prominently included in this acclaimed documentary, and the filmmaker will give a presentation on her work in the region. She will also make a presentation on her research into women's roots music on Saturday, April 21, at 10 a.m. at the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library.

Wednesday evening concludes with the Delta Symposium's first musical performance. A Blues and Roots Music showcase event will be held in downtown Jonesboro at TheArts@311, a performance venue located at 311 South Church Street, at 7 p.m. Local musicians will perform in a showcase style that highlights the excellence and variety of musicians in the Jonesboro community. Some of the musicians will also be featured later on in other events throughout the symposium.

Thursday's events begin at 9:30 a.m. in the Mockingbird Room with a session, “Delta Root
s and Jazz Connections,” organized by Mike Overall and Dr. E. Ron Horton. Mike Overall writes for Occasions Magazine and is a well-known jazz drummer in the region. His presentation will be a live version of his regular column "Overall's Wanderings." Dr. E. Ron Horton is a performer (trumpet), composer, arranger, ethnomusicologist, and director of Jazz Studies at ASU.

All Thursday's daytime sessions will take place in the Mockingbird Room, including an 11 a.m. musical performance/presentation. Dr. John Kimsey of Chicago's DePaul University School for New Learning will present "Twisted Roots: Music, Politics, and the American Dream Blues." Dr. Kimsey illustrates central concepts in America's musical history by combining live performance with his research presentation. 

At 1 p.m. on Thursday, the Delta Symposium will host its first keynote speaker in the Mockingbird Room. Dr. Jay Gitlin of Yale University will give his featured address, "Dixie: Revisiting or Reconsidering the French Influence in Southern Culture." Dr. Gitlin's presentation will offer insights into the overall theme of this year's symposium by showcasing diverse roots of southern history and culture.

An afternoon session beginning at 2:15 p.m. will continue Thursday's Mockingbird Room events with the session "Roots Music and Popular Imagery in the Blues." Colin Beineke, Dr. Alan Brown, and Dr. Mitsutoshi Inaba will make presentations on blues music and blues imagery in mass media, including discussions of the ballad character Stagger Lee, the blues documentary "Deep Blues," and Sonny Boy Williamson I (John Lee Curtis Williamson).

Thursday will include a second musical performance and academic presentation that begins at 4:15 p.m. Renowned folklorist and fiddler Alan Jabbour will perform with the highly acclaimed banjoist Ken Perlman. Their session focuses on fiddle and banjo tunes in the old-time tradition and will trace out influences of roots music into contemporary musical genres.

Thursday’s activities conclude with a 7:30 p.m. reading by the poet Tony Tost in the Cache Rive
r Room of the Carl R. Reng Student Union. This event will also include readings by ASU student poets whose work will be featured in the upcoming issue of the literary magazine Tributary, a publication of ASU's English and Philosophy Department. A reception in honor of Tost and the student writers will be held following the reading.

Friday morning, April 20, begins with a paper session at 8 a.m. "Remembering Our Roots" is a panel featuring ASU’s Dr. Lillie M. Fears and students Pat John, Tamela Lewis, Mable Bynum, George Bingham, and Steve Johnson. This panel focuses on the preservation and celebration of African American history and culture in the Delta. Topics include discussion of the work being done to preserve historically black cemeteries, the organization of an African American museum and cultural center in Pocahontas, Arkansas, and the importance of high school reunions in preserving the legacy of historical memory in Delta communities.

At 10:30 a.m., on Friday, April 20, the symposium’s second keynote event will be a featured presentation called "Decoration Day in the Mountains." Alan and Karen Jabbour will give a multimedia talk on their recent research on the tradition of decorating gravesites in southern Appalachia and other mountain communities. The Jabbours' photographic lecture will include presentations on cemetery decorations that they documented in Arkansas, and they will explore how these commemorative activities are meaningful ways of celebrating the memory of those who have contributed to life in rural communities.

On Friday, April 20, at 1 p.m., the panel session "Arkansas Tradition through Time and Across Generations,” features Beth Bring, Dr. Katherine Dillion, Susan Probasco, and Michael Rounds, who will present their research on Arkansas traditional culture as a vibrant element of contemporary life. By looking at a range of topics, from fiddle traditions through gospel music and local storytelling, the presenters will show ways to connect history to contemporary cultural expression.

Friday’s focus on Delta roots culture and history concludes with a final afternoon session that begins at 3:30 p.m. "Roots Culture and Mass Media" examines ways that local historical and cultural resources are mediated through a range of mass forms of expression, including television, theatre projects, record labels, and music publishing companies. Shan Lin, Megan Gosa, Dr. Wayne Narey, and Mark Randall will show how professors and students at ASU have been researching these topics to provide insight into important concepts of local, state, and national identity.

Another highlight of the Delta Symposium will be a Friday night concert at 7:30 p.m., when legendary bluesman L. C. Ulmer brings his expertise to ASU’s Carl R. Reng Student Union Auditorium.  A recording artist with Hill Country Records, Ulmer lives in Ellisville, Mississippi.  He's played blues clubs, festival, juke joints, and other venues for over 50 years, and he has recently released the CD "Blues Come Yonder."  He also is featured on numerous compilation CDs of living Delta Blues musicians. The show is free and open to the public.

This year, Saturday’s events will be moved to Jonesboro's West End neighborhood, near downtown Jonesboro. On Saturday, April 21, at 10 a.m., filmmaker Dyann Arthur will provide a second screening of her film "Americana Women: Roots Musicians/Women's Tales and Tunes" at the Round Room of the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library, 315 West Oak Avenue, Jonesboro. This event is free and open to the public and will provide an opportunity for people to meet this acclaimed documentarian.

At 10:45 a.m., the symposium literally moves through the city of Jonesboro. Jonesboro architects and design professionals Libbii Fairhead, Jim Little, and John Mixon will lead an architectural walking tour of the historic West End neighborhood. Fairhead, Little, and Mixon will meet those who wish to go on the tour at the Craighead County Jonesboro Library.

On Saturday afternoon, the symposium concludes with the Delta Roots Music Festival, a free blues and roots music concert at City Water and Light Park (where Culberhouse Street and Cherry Avenue meet), beginning at 12 noon. Prior to the main event, local acoustic musicians are welcome to come for a jam begining at 11 a.m. This outdoor event features Delta acts including the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, David Lynn Jones and Friends, and Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition. This event is co-sponsored by the West End Neighborhood Association with support from the Arkansas Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. The performance venue TheArts@311, (at 311 S. Church Street) will be open for performers and audience in case of rain.

Delta Blues Symposium XVIII: Roots and Generations is sponsored by the Department of English and Philosophy at ASU. For further information, contact the Department of English and Philosophy at (870) 972-3043, visit the Delta Symposium's homepage, or ASU News online, or visit the Delta Symposium on Facebook.  

For more information, contact Dr. Gregory Hansen, Department of English and Philosophy, Symposium Committee, at (870) 972-3043.