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First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

Mississippi (Page 1 of 2)

Mississippi

Berklee guitarist felt the souls of Mississippi blues pioneers

Noe Socha turned 20 on his trip to Mississippi, though his birthday was the dimmest of the highlights from his trip. Noe is a deep devote of the blues and the Mississippi musicians whose music has transcended generations and oceans to influence a kid from Capri, Italy, who started out playing classical music on his guitar. This was his first trip down South and every time he stepped out of the van to explore another historic landmark, he tapped into something spiritual coming up from the grounds where Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Honey Boy Edwards, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Albert King once roamed with their guitars.

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Berklee’s return to Mississippi

Students, faculty, and staff recently headed South for an annual traverse through Mississippi.  The group represented the fourth Berklee Mississippi Music Exchange, which trades education, music, and culture between Berklee and kindred organizations throughout the state.  The trip itinerary included auditioning  Mississippi youth for summer scholarships, and gigs and blues and civil rights tours for the Berklee crew.

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A successful summer for Paula Thompson from Mississippi

Paula Thompson receiving her 2010 summer scholarship this spring with (from left) Berklee professor Lenny Stallworth, Delta Blues Museum director Shelley Ritter, and Delta Blues Museum's gift shop director Christopher Coleman

Fairytales do come true. . . it happened to Paula Thompson, a Clarksdale, Mississippi high school student who came to Berklee this summer for the Five-Week Program on a full scholarship. (Publicist Allen Bush blogged about Paula here and here.) The singer was the first female Five-Week scholarship recipient from the Delta Blues Museum music program for youth.

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Mississippi scholarship winners announced in more intimate confines

The Berklee Mississippi Exchange Band. From left: Saxophonist Mario Castro, bassist Lenny Stallworth, drummer Taylor Gordon, and keyboardist Eric Finland.

The Berklee Mississippi Exchange Band headed to the Delta Blues Museum’s outdoor stage, ready for their first set of the day.  It would be during the Juke Joint Festival debut by a Berklee group when the summer scholarship winner would be revealed.  Both contenders, with family members and close friends were stage side, waiting, smiling politely, keeping cool.  The two young women in all of their composure made an impression, and were an example to emulate when, suddenly, we realized that there were no drums or backline on stage.

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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.

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