Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > "I Don't Like the Blues.": Stories of Memory, Race, and Regional Futures from the Mississippi Delta

This dissertation is not about the blues—about the music’s origins in the Mississippi Delta, or its evolution from field holler and work song to Bessie Smith and B.B. King. I do not wish, here, to chronicle or update the record on black American music preferences, and I draw few references to the blues lyric tradition. Rather, this dissertation positions the blues as muse and metaphor; indeed, as an interpretive framework for understanding the racial attitudes, placemaking logics, and folk epistemologies of black southerners in the post-Civil Rights Mississippi Delta. Extending the findings of existent commentary citing the social and sociological capacities of black aesthetic cultures, I demonstrate that black Delta communities imbue the blues with social, cultural, and historical, as well as aesthetic, meaning. I find that while earlier generations embraced and embodied the blues to navigate daily life in the Plantation and Jim Crow South, black southerners today are reimagining the blues—variably as an environment of social memory, site of racial meaning and experience, and arena of regional futurism—and ultimately dispensing with it as they negotiate the emergent realities of the post-Civil Rights Mississippi Delta. I argue that such claims embody a broader way of seeing and negotiating the social world that minds the enduring importance of the past while holding to a transformative vision for the present and future. Indeed, the account offered here, logged during two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Clarksdale, Mississippi, straddles, blurs, and crosses boundaries between remembering and reckoning, vigilance and aspiration, front porches and back roads, New South and Old.