Refuse to fold : blues heritage tourism and the Mississippi delta /

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Dempsey, Brian
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Middle Tennessee State University
This dissertation examines the development and use of blues history and culture within modern heritage tourism efforts in Mississippi. I argue that a constructed blues narrative now serves as a powerful agent within Mississippi's modern identity. Reaping the economic benefits of blues tourism, many Mississippi Delta towns actively promote their ties to musicians such as Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. This development reflects post-World War II trends in the South, whereby distinctive regional cultures serve as commodities within struggling economies. In the Delta the historical inequities between black and white, severe poverty, health disparities, and the limits of economic revitalization through heritage tourism and casino gambling, all present challenges to a state eagerly attempting to revise a historical legacy associated with racial oppression, separation, and violence. A key topic of consideration remains the degree to which local African American communities are part of the management and construction of blues tourism narratives in the Delta.
As an extension of Chapter Four, I collaborated with fellow PhD candidate, Angela Smith, to produce a documentary film titled, REFUSE TO FOLD: THE BLUE FRONT CAFE AND MISSISSIPPI BLUES HERITAGE TOURISM. This project analyzes a juke joint in Bentonia, Mississippi and situates it within a larger process of heritage tourism development throughout the state. By examining a living community and physical space in Mississippi, this film provides an aural and visual complement to the research and analysis presented in chapters 1-3. The modern fascination with blues culture in the South is often connected to historical mythologies that reify and confound the lived experiences of blues practitioners and the diverse communities they represent. Jimmy 'Duck' Holmes, owner of the Blue Front, therefore serves as the film's central voice, revealing a complex narrative about blues music expression, Mississippi race relations, and cultural commodification.
Includes supplementary digital materials.