Music is common thread in state

Published 12:18 am Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A recent column in The Natchez Democrat took the position that Mississippi’s slogan “Birthplace of America’s Music” excludes 80 percent of the state and directs visitors to “our poorest, most unprepared, region.” The article was predicated on the writer’s reaction to signs bearing this slogan placed by the Mississippi Department of Transportation at the state’s borders.

We are very disappointed in the lack of vision in the opinion piece.

The article seems to suggest that Mississippi music is just blues in the Delta and Elvis in Tupelo and excludes tourism assets in the rest of the state. As other respondents to this column have pointed out, this is simply not true.

While Mississippi is rich with cultural, historical and entertainment assets which present tourism opportunities, the challenge in effectively marketing a state — any state — is to identify that one characteristic or factor that truly makes it unique or distinct. In our musical heritage, we have that distinction. All of America’s musical roots can be traced to Mississippi. This musical heritage is our collective defining attribute, to which each of Mississippi’s communities can add their own unique assets.

Anyone who sees this overarching international brand, which helps to attract millions of visitors to the state as exclusionary has a poor understanding of tourism marketing concepts.

Music provides the soundtrack to our lives. While our state is best known as the home of blues music, Mississippi is also uniquely positioned to lay claim to the king of rock n’ roll, the father of country music, a multitude of gospel greats and even opera stars. Mississippians have been at the forefront of producing and recording these rich sounds, which hail from every region of the state, not just the Delta, and broadcasting it to the world. In Natchez, the Natchez Music Festival celebrates opera, Broadway and jazz, more proof that musical tastes and talents in Mississippi run the gamut.

More than 100 Mississippi Blues Trail markers located around the state are testaments that blues musicians are born and bred in every corner of Mississippi, and those markers demonstrate how Mississippi blues has influenced music beyond our borders. One marker in Natchez celebrates blues harmonica player Papa Lightfoot and his Natchez blues contemporaries. Another marker commemorates the deadly 1940 fire at the Rhythm Club, a popular Natchez blues spot. Soon country music artists will enjoy the same distinction with the recent unveiling of the Mississippi Country Music Trail.

Something about Mississippi breeds creativity, whether it’s great literature, music, world-class cuisine and down-home eats or stunning visual arts. By celebrating Mississippi as the “Birthplace of America’s Music,” we are building the creative economy that is the future of our state. That creative spirit has inspired innovation beyond the traditional scope of the arts as well. Many corporate leaders across the state have captured that spirit in their business ventures and become world-known for producing high quality products by Mississippi workers.

We are using a common thread across the global community to attract visitors to Natchez, southwest Mississippi and all areas of the state. Then our history, food, outdoor spaces and hospitality awe and inspire them, and keep them coming back.

Gray Swoope, executive director

Mississippi Development Authority