Visualizing the Blues: A Multimedia Review

By Snyder, Robert E. | Southern Quarterly, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Visualizing the Blues: A Multimedia Review


Snyder, Robert E., Southern Quarterly


Exhibit: "Visualizing the Blues, Images of the American South, 1862-1999." Catalog: Wendy McDaris, ed. Foreword by John Grisham. Visualizing the Blues: Images of the American South. Memphis: Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 2000. Hardcover: ISBN 0-- 945064-04-7

CD: Eddie Dattel, prod."Goin' Down South: Blues Sampler." Memphis: Inside Sounds/ Inside Memphis, 2000. ISC-0510

Video: William Bearden, prod. "Visualizing the Blues." Memphis: Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 2000. 28:50 Minutes.

Schedule

Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, Tennessee. 8 October 2000-7 January 2001

Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, Louisiana. 29 April-8 July 2001

Museum of Contemporary Art, Boulder, Colorado. 12 October-23 December 2001

Austin Museum of Art, Austin, Texas. 18 January-24 March 2002

Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina. 6 April-26 May 2002

Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, New York. 2 June-8 September 2002

Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia. 24 September-24 November 2002

Georgia Museum of Art, Athens. 18 January-23 March 2003

IN OCTOBER 2000, the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, premiered a multimedia exhibit "Visualizing the Blues: Images of the American South, 1862-1999." A more appropriate site, historically and culturally, would be hard to find (Jones 121). The Delta, Pulitzer Prize-winning Mississippi author David L. Cohn once said, started in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel, where the region's power brokers gathered and dictated how life would run, and extended 200 miles southward to Catfish Row in Vicksburg. The alluvial soil of the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers flood plain, which at its widest point stretched seventy miles, produced not simply some of the most robust crops in the world, but also some of its poorest people. The Delta was "the South's South." Memphis became the largest inland port and cotton market in the antebellum South, and one of its largest slave markets. The hollers and chants of labor in the fields, mining, logging, levee and railroad camps, and dock work, and music from homemade instruments expressed the hard work and life,joys and sorrows. Free labor fleeing the Delta in the late-nineteenth century stopped in Memphis and St. Louis. W. C. Handy earned the title "Father of the Blues" playing at Pee Wee's Saloon on Beale Street, sometimes referred to as "Negro America's Mainstreet," and publishing such early classics as "Memphis Blues," "St. Louis Blues," and "Beale Street Blues." While some blacks stayed in the rising urban centers of the South to set down roots, others moved, especially during the Great Migrations of World War I and II, to Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, contributing to a social and cultural diaspora. "Contemporary Americans often view Mississippi blues musicians as dusty, rural, tortured artists who represented almost the antithesis of things connected to modern markets, mass media, and consumer culture," Southern historian Ted Ownby has observed. "In fact, much of the blues represented the cultural creations of people coming to terms with new possibilities, many of them associated with mobility and urban life" (122). It was in Memphis at Sun Studios that Sam Phillips recorded Howlin' Wolf and Elvis Presley. In the struggle for civil rights, Memphis was the scene of a bitter garbage workers strike, and the place where Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968. The United States Congress recognized this heritage when in 1977 it declared Memphis "Home of the Blues. "1

"Visualizing the Blues" was a departure from the Dixon's mission. Founded through a bequest from Hugo N. Dixon, a cotton magnate, the gallery sits on seventeen acres of Tennessee woodlands, and is noted for its collection of French and American Impressionist art and works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, eighteenth-century German porcelain, and three centuries of pewter from Europe and the United States. …

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