Festival of Music: 30 years is reason to celebrate

Published 5:47 pm Friday, June 18, 2021

Many years ago, after attending the Santa Fe Opera Festival in 1990, former Natchez resident Lani Riches asked her husband Ron over dinner at Momouth this question: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Natchez could have an opera festival like that?”

During the course of dinner, the Riches struck up a conversation with another well-known Natchezian, Mr. Buzz Harper, and friends, Dr. and Mrs. David Blackburn, regarding the possibility of holding a festival.

Dr. Blackburn, a well-respected opera professor and conductor, was charged with the task of preparing and presenting a conceptual plan.

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Later that year, the Natchez Festival of Music was born.

Dr. Blackburn went on to become the first Artistic Director of the Festival, followed by George Hogan in 2009, then Jay Dean in 2011.

Dr. Dean, known and respected throughout music circles for his success as Director of the School of Music at the University of Southern Mississippi, continues to this day as leader of the festival.

He has found great support and assistance in Diana Glaze, current Chairperson of the NFoM Board of Directors, and a small number of dedicated individuals who have done so much to keep the festival going, even in spite of a National Pandemic.

They deserve recognition for their efforts!

Over the years, the Natchez Festival of Music has been a primary sponsor of live music, theater and world-class performers, helping to provide Natchez and the entire Miss-Lou area with events such as operas, operettas, Broadway musicals, jazz, recitals and special concerts. Thousands of people can very likely refer to a great musical memory as a result – 30 years of concerts is a long time and a lot of concerts!

Already over the past few weeks, the festival has held several top class performances, including a concert pianist, two classical trios, a renowned opera singer, and even an amazing Louis Armstrong impersonator, “Satchmo.”

I shall never forget the sold-out event last Friday at the Community Center, a diverse Natchez audience enjoying fantastic jazz and gospel favorites provided by Crystal Springs native Kimble Funchess and his orchestra!

And it just keeps getting better… the icing on the cake? Friday’s concert, June 18, at the Municipal Auditorium, “String of Pearls” – a sentimental lineup of fantastic artists and crowd favorites from the past 30 years!

If you haven’t made it to the concerts, there is still time. Luckenbach, a Willie Nelson Revival act, will perform next Friday at the Natchez Community Center, and the finale concert, Take Five, will be held June 30 at Waverly.

On behalf of our city, let us express congratulations and best wishes upon our Natchez Festival of Music! May the past 30 years be only a prelude to many more years of musical events to come!

Dan Gibson is mayor of Natchez.