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First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

The snare drum rolls in Clarksdale for the summer scholarship applicants

From left: Kyleen Thomas and Paula Thompson, Delta Blues Museum Arts & Education Program students.

I can’t imagine what the two young women have been thinking since their scholarship auditions at the Delta Blues Museum on Thursday.  Jacquline Gooch and Paula Thompson, students from the Delta Blues Museum’s Arts & Education Program, were both outstanding.  Gooch, 19, accompanied herself on a guitar with a sliver of worn wood below the sound hole that looked like a scar.  I imagined the hours she’s played her instrument, writing her own songs and learning others.  Thompson, 15, stood with the microphone in hand and sang for a small audience of family and museum staffers.  Kyleen Thomas, 12, another museum student, played bass while instructor Daddy Rich played guitar for Thompson.  Rich, museum gift shop manager Chris Coleman, Berklee professor Lenny Stallworth and I judged the two singers and multi instrumentalists.  It’s hard to choose one of them when there are two talented and deserving hopefuls.

Jacquline Gooch, Delta Blues Museum Arts & Education Program students, auditions for a Berklee Mississippi Summer Scholarship.

It’s Saturday morning, and I keep meeting people who are buzzing about the scholarship.  The Clarksdale Press Register published my press release about the Exchange program and the scholarships in yesterday’s paper.  And, enough locals know about the scholarship after three years that whenever any of our posse mentions it, they nod expectedly, saying they’ll be at the front of the stage for the announcement at 3:30 this afternoon.

In the meantime, we need a place to rehearse before today’s two Juke Joint Festival gigs.  Students Mario Castro (sax), Taylor Gordon (drums) and Eric Finland (keys) got their groove on last night at the Hopson Plantation commissary with a set that raised faces from plates of crawfish and brisket.  I’m glad the group didn’t heed one women’s repeated requests for Van Morrison or Bonnie Raitt.  What they were playing was far too funky to turn that corner.  Later, at Red’s Lounge, Dick Lourie, a friend from Boston who plays sax with legend Big Jack Johnson, invited Castro to join Johnson’s grooving, bluesy set for a couple of tunes.

Packed house for the Juke Joint Festival appearance by Big Jack Johnson.

The temperature was already 100 degrees there in the small club where the band set up on the floor and people crowded around with barely enough room to swing a guitar neck.

Calls this morning to contacts and new friends in Clarksdale landed in the Clarksdale Soundstage, owned by Grammy nominated producer and prolific hit songwriter Gary Vincent.  The sound stage is part of a complex that includes a recording studio, living accommodations, a full kitchen, and banquet room. I heard different people say that over the years the building housed a head start program and Clarksdale’s first NAACP headquarters, and that its sits on the spot where WC Handy once lived.  Doesn’t matter, because the Clarksdale Sound Stage is creating a new legend.  A Grammy nomination this year went to an Elvin Bishop album recorded in house, and GeorgeThorogood, Delaney Bramlett, and Jimmy Thackery have done projects there.

Berklee professors Bill Banfield and Lenny Stallworth get ready at the Clarksdale Sound Stage for their Juke Joint Festival appearance.

Everyone was present for the rehearsal, the Berklee group, including professors Stallworth and Bill Banfield, and special guests guitarist Travis Calvin, a current instructor at the Delta Blues Museum’s Arts & Education Program, gift shop manager vocalist Coleman, and vocalist Ashton Riker, who studies in Berklee’s City Music Network program at the Stax Music Academy, in Memphis.  Calvin and Riker are expected to be among Berklee’s entering class this fall.

Throughout rehearsal,

Berklee professor Lenny Stallworth and student Mario Castro rehearse at the Clarksdale Sound Stage.

Vincent escorted guests into the space to get a preview of the funky Berklee group.  One women told me that she had learned the identity of the scholarship recipient and was pleased with the decision.  I didn’t confirm or deny her expectation, and I wished we could have given one to her pick, too.  She said I would see her among the crowd in front of the stage, waiting for the winner’s reaction.

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1 Comment

  1. I was there during the Juke Joint Festival 2010, and at Red’s Lounge that Saturday night. On this evening I very proudly presented to “Red” an oil painting of “The Jelly Roll Kings”. I have been painting portraits of legendary blues personalities, and I felt there was no better place for this particular painting.
    My husband and I are in Clarksdale at least once each year for the festivals there since the opening of Ground Zero Blues Club.

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