WXPN presents new strains of classic blues

The Mississippi blues have landed in Philly.

The Mississippi Blues Project (MBP) is bringing musicians to town to showcase the breadth and depth of a music style that has received relatively limited exposure in this region.


The yearlong project, which began this past August and continues through May of 2013, and is run by WXPN, Penn’s public radio station, showcases present-day Mississippi blues as a vibrant folk art form that’s alive and well.

“We’re creating some really unique content around this art form that is broad-reaching,” explains Bruce Warren, assistant station manager at WXPN and executive producer of the MBP. “Hey, this is music you need to hear. It’s underserved and that’s the mission of public radio—to serve an audience.”

To accompany the performance series, the MBP also features an interactive online component, complete with blog posts, videos of live performances, interviews, and photos. In addition, National Public Radio (NPR) recently announced the launch of a new music mix dedicated to the MBP, available for a limited time at www.npr.org/music.

The artists featured in the project are both young and old, and have been selected for the roles they’ve played in the evolution of Mississippi blues. In August, The Cedric Burnside Project and Big George Brock performed at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Future performances include Terry “Harmonica” Bean and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes on Monday, Oct. 22; Anthony “Big A” Sherrod and Robert Belfour on Feb. 15, 2013; and Homemade Jamz Blues Band and Super Chikan on May 16, 2013. All the shows are free and take place at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St.

The final performance will also be part of an interactive performance series for Philadelphia school-age children: the World Cafe Live Connections program, a non-profit arm of WXPN.

The MBP is funded by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Music Project, an initiative to foster excellence and innovation in the region’s musical landscape.

Jonny Meister, host of "Blues & Beyond" and “The Blues Show” on ‘XPN and project consultant to the MBP, says he selected musicians for the series who span a wide age range and who have varying styles. He also wanted to make sure all of the artists would—and could—make the trek to Philadelphia to perform.

Meister, who has written about B. B. King and interviewed Holmes for the MBP website, emphasizes these artists aren’t the ones who influenced the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, but musicians whose music has only recently been discovered outside Mississippi’s borders. 

“I just would like to raise the awareness of the music. For some people it will be a first-time connection,” Meister says. “There is a tendency to think of [blues] as dead and I’m glad to be focusing on … people who are living it.”

In addition to the performances and website, ‘XPN is also offering a World Cafe Travel Adventure connected with the MBP, “Walking In Memphis and the Mississippi Blues Trail,” from Oct. 24-28. Members taking the tour will visit Clarksdale, Miss., the birthplace of Mississippi blues. David Dye, host of “World Cafe,” will be broadcasting from Clarksdale for one day.

The MBP is all about heightening awareness of blues, says Warren, and hopefully introducing new audiences to a classic American music genre.

“At ‘XPN, it’s about discovery, it’s about curation, it’s about preservation. It’s connecting audiences with artists. That’s our mission,” Warren says. “This fits perfectly into that.”

For more information on the MBP, visit the website at www.mississippibluesproject.org. For more information on all ‘XPN events, go to www.xpn.org.

Originally published on October 11, 2012