Tourism officials singing same song

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 16, 2010

NATCHEZ — Both state and local tourism departments are looking to carve a deeper niche in their musical culture to pull in tourists from all over the world by promoting the Mississippi Blues Trail.

“We’re looking to promote Natchez as another hub for recognizing the blues,” Director of Natchez Tourism Management Connie Taunton said.

Two historical blues trail markers have already been placed in Natchez, as well as one marker in Ferriday. Two more Natchez sites are slated to receive markers in 2011, Director of Heritage Tourism for the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau Darrell White said.

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Taunton said White has been working hard to promote Natchez’s African American history and culture, which includes the Mississippi Blues trail.

White is also the executive director of the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture.

On Feb. 18, a marker will be dedicated in Natchez to Bud Scott, White said. The fourth marker in Natchez will be dedicated to the Ealey family during this year’s Natchez Blues Festival in April, White said.

Natchez’s existing markers commemorate the Rhythm Club Fire of 1940 and “Papa Lightfoot.”

The Mississippi Blues Commission established the trail in 2003, and it has been funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Taunton said the trail attracts many international tourists and those from other states because devout Blues fans exist everywhere. The State Division of Tourism is running a campaign to the international market promoting the blues trail, she said.

Those unaware of Natchez’s rich Blues history can learn about it in a 24-page spread in this month’s 72-page issue of Living Blues magazine, Taunton said.

Living Blues magazine focuses on African American blues traditions and is a bi-monthly publication by the Center for Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. According to the University of Mississippi, the magazine has a circulation of more than 20,000.

The series of articles, whose package is titled, “The Natchez Blues,” features several local blues musicians, some of the city’s history and tourism suggestions including information on local restaurants.

Natchez was also featured in Firehouse magazine, Taunton said. Firehouse is a departmental publication targeting more than 74,000 fire fighting officials.

The article in Firehouse titled “A nightclub, a fire… And a generation vanishes,” tell the story of the Rhythm Night Club and the fire in 1940 that killed 209 people.

Taunton said she has noticed a heightened interest in the Rhythm Night Club recently, with the opening of the museum on the site of the fire during the year of the incident’s 70th anniversary.

Recent interest in commemorating the fire has brought in more questions from tourists about the Watkins Street Cemetery, Taunton said.

At Wednesday’s Natchez Board of Aldermen meeting, Taunton stressed the importance of organizing some type of group to maintain the Watkins Street Cemetery.

“It’s a challenge; it needs a lot of work. But we need to seriously look at (the issue) and pay tribute to those victims of the fire,” Taunton said.

White said several black soldiers were also buried in the cemetery since it was built in 1899.

Volunteers come occasionally to clean up the site, but Taunton she would like to see a more officially organized group maintain the project and resume grass cutting and maintenance of the cemetery.

The Worthy Women of Watkins Street Cemetery currently work monthly to clean up the site and operate on donations, but White and Taunton said the area is very difficult to maintain.