Music fans in Southwest Florida not only will be treated to authentic blues from the Deep South at a February outdoor concert at Florida Gulf Coast University, but also can learn about the rich history behind the distinctive Delta Blues from a professor who’s passionate about it.
Clay Motley will bring his inside perspective on this musical form to a Feb. 9 lecture at the Harvey Kapnick Research and Education Center at the Naples Botanical Garden. His presentation is prelude to a Feb. 22 concert by blues artists Robert “Bilbo” Walker, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod and Stan Street. The Clarksdale, Miss., musicians will showcase their unique mix of slide guitar and lyrical poetry in the Cohen Center ballroom. Both events are free and open to the public. all from.
Motley, Director of FGCU’s Honors College and Associate Professor of English, studies popular forms of Southern music and is writing a book on the music history of Clarksdale – hence the connection with the blues artists coming to FGCU. He frequently travels to Mississippi for research.
“This multimedia lecture will focus on the surprising history of the Mississippi Delta and how the blues developed from this unique region to become one of America’s most original and influential music genres,” Motley said. “We will also discuss the Delta Blues today, and how music tourism is a vital industry to the poorest region in America. This lecture is perfect preparation for the concert, which is certainly something our campus hasn’t seen before.”
The Delta Blues originates from the western part of the Magnolia State, a region often credited as the very place where the blues were born. According to allmusic.com, the style was the first African-American, guitar-dominated music to be recorded, in the late 1920s. The form is characterized by fiery slide guitar and passionate vocalizing, and it has continued to thrive with new performers – such as the 25-year-old Sherrod – working in the traditions and style of older artists such as Walker, who will celebrate his 80th birthday three days before the FGCU concert; and Street, who’s also an accomplished painter and owner of the Hambone Gallery, which mixes music with his blues-inspired artwork.
For greater educational perspective – not to mention pure entertainment – Motley recommends checking out performances by “Bilbo” and “Big A” on YouTube. To learn more about the Delta region, he advises visiting the Moonshine and Mojo Hands website, which features what Motley calls a “cool series” of short documentaries by filmmaker and music promoter Roger Stolle, owner of Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art in Clarksdale. Motley said Stolle helped him organize the upcoming concert, which is sponsored by FGCU’s Office of Community Outreach and the Honors College.
Motley’s lecture, “Delta Blues Past and Present,” takes place at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Kapnick Center, 4820 Bayshore Drive, Naples. To register, call (239) 590-1056. The Mississippi Blues Legend Concert on campus begins at 5 p.m. Feb. 22 in the Cohen Center ballroom.