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Grammy Museum opens in Mississippi Delta

JACKSON, Miss. — The second and only official Grammy Museum outside of Los Angeles opened March 5 in the Mississippi Delta, cradle of the blues.

Organizers chose Cleveland, Miss., for the nearly $20 million project and promise one of the most advanced museums in the country. It's a smaller but updated version of its sister museum in California and employs high-definition touchscreens and interactive technology to chronicle American music from before the first Grammy Awards in 1959 to the present.

The bedrock of that history is the Mississippi Delta, said Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. The rhythmic guitar and soulful ballads of bluesmen like Robert Johnson and B.B. King traveled up the Mississippi and across the country, influencing nearly every style of American popular music: jazz, hip-hop and rock 'n' roll. The state also claims the most Grammy winners per capita in the world.

"Isn't that wild?" Santelli said. "You take the state of Mississippi out of American music history and you have a very large gap to fill."

The blues mesmerized musicians ranging from Tupelo, Miss., native Elvis Presley to the Beatles and more in generations since, said Patricia Walker, songwriter and head of Delta State University's music department. The original bluesmen — mostly African-American men living in the Jim Crow era in the South — lived off the land and eased their hardships through music.

"Everybody at one time or another has had the blues," Walker said. "The musicians that came out of here had to dig deep in the soil to make a living, and they dug deep to capture those feelings in their music."

Officials designed the museum with the Delta's history in mind. Corrugated metal on the building's exterior is a nod to the tin sharecropper shacks many blues musicians grew up in. The entrance looks like a big front porch, a common feature of many Delta homes.

The museum features a diverse collection, from the acoustic guitar Presley played during his landmark 1950s Sun Records Sessions to the feather costume Cee Lo Green wore at the 2011 Grammy Awards.

Pop singer Ne-Yo teaches dance moves from a life-sized screen over a multicolored dance floor that lights up like the one from Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. One booth lets visitors hear what Beyoncé would have sounded like on a gramophone.

Visitors can record and produce a song with Grammy Award-winning bluesman Keb' Mo' and trace the influence of Mississippians like Ike Turner.

Jessica Faith, a piano player and vocalist at Delta State, is scheduled to play at the museum's Beatles Symposium in April. The band is the focus of the museum's first traveling exhibit.

"The younger generation isn't very aware of the great legacy in their back yard," she said. "It's empowering for them to see that B.B. King was born here and grew up here and had such success. There's something in the water here, in the dirt. It's very deep. It's very real."

For information, go to grammymuseumms.org.

Grammy Museum opens in Mississippi Delta 03/09/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 10:42am]
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