By: Shelia Byrd
JACKSON, Miss.— Jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson can easily explain why the Mississippi Blues Trail would embrace jazz artists.
“Blues is an essential component of jazz. It’s like one of the building blocks. It’s what we use in order to navigate changes. You always have to keep close ties to that original sound and feeling,” Wilson said last Thursday after a blues marker was unveiled in her honor at a school she attended as a child.
The ceremony drew a crowd of some 200 students, friends and other musicians, including singer Dorothy Moore and bluesman Bobby Rush.
Wilson, a two-time Grammy Award-winner, whose eclectic repertoire has included covers of blues tunes, absorbed music from her earliest years. Her father, Herman Fowlkes Jr., was a bassist who played with blues harmonica icon Sonny Boy Williamson II.
Wilson chose the site for the marker. The Brinkley Middle School is located in what is now an economically depressed area of Jackson, but Wilson said it’s where she got her start.
“It’s where I learned about music. It’s where I played and went to school and it’s such a wonderful neighborhood,” Wilson said.
The marker is the 100th on the trail, created as part of a project designed to bolster the state’s blues tourism industry.
The trail will stretch from Memphis Minnie’s grave in Walls, near the Tennessee border, to Farish Street in downtown Jackson, a historic black business district and home of the Alamo Theatre where many famous black entertainers have performed. That’s where Moore’s marker was placed in 2008.
Scott Baretta, a researcher for the trail, said Wilson’s marker will illustrate how jazz and blues have intersected.
“Jazz musicians have always played blues, but usually when they talk about blues, they’re referring to chord changes for a particular style of song and not to songs very closely associated with blues,” Baretta said. “What’s unique about her is that she covers songs by Delta blues artists, such as Robert Johnson and Son House, and that music generally wouldn’t be found in the repertoire of jazz artists.”