J.D. Williams Library Houses One Of The Nation’s Largest Blues Archives

Greg Johnson, curator of Blues Archives at the University of Mississippi, sets up a display featuring rare and never-before-seen memorabilia that is on display at the J.D. Williams Library throughout the summer. UM photo by Nathan Latil.

Home to over 60,000 sound recording, 20,000 photos, 34,000 books and much more, the Ole Miss Blues Archive is one of the largest archive of its type in the academic community. 

This Saturday, the archive is hosting a two-part panel discussion with the Oxford Blues Festival’s headliner Beverly “Guitar” Watkins and curator Greg Johnson. The first panel will take place from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., with Watkins. Johnson will lead the second panel starting at 12:15 p.m. to 1 p.m. Johnson is excited for the panel to hear the life story of Watkins, a blues legend who has performed alongside James Brown, B.B. King and others.

During the panel, they will also be discussing the countless artifacts in the archive and the stories behind them. The relationship between the archive and the festival has always been a good one.

“I think the two work really well together. Hopefully, we get a good crowd for the festival itself. In the past, we have had people from all over the country that came down for the festival and visit the archive,” Johnson said. 

According to Johnson, the festival adds good exposure for the archive.

“I know people have contacted me who attended previous festivals wanting information. They were doing blues research and found out about us because of the blues festival,” Johnson said.  

Founder of the Oxford Blues Festival, James Darryl Parker, did not know about the archive when he started the event seven years ago. Parker was elated to learn of the archive’s existence when hearing about it from friends after the inaugural festival.

“I was proud that the state had taken a great interest in preserving our culture and history,” Parker said. “A lot of times the art is left out. I’m glad the archive is a home for a musician or any citizen that has a collection.”

Now, he visits the archive frequently stating he always discovers something new with every visit. The archive was opened in 1984 on the Ole Miss campus. Johnson believes the archive gained notice after artist BB King donated his personal record collection in the early 1980s.

“That started a lot of people donating materials to the University because people thought if it is good enough for BB King, that sounds like a good place to give my materials,” Johnson said. 

The archive goes beyond the blues, according to Parker. He feels that the archive is a place to store culture for the community. It shows the history of Southern culture and families of the various ethnicities that settled here, but this weekend is all about the blues. The archive and the festival give a new generation a chance to learn and enjoy blues culture and music. 

“Living in Mississippi is great because it’s the birthplace of American music: Rock and roll, blues, and rhythm & blues,” Ole Miss student, Jay Deeprao said. “It is real interesting to see artists who today still show us where our roots are from. So, I think it’s cool to see some local blues artists and out of state artists pay homage to one of the great genres.”

Located in the J.D. Williams Library on Ole Miss campus, the archive is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Joliasa Miller is a student at the Meek School of Journalism. She can be reached at jjmiller@go.olemiss.edu

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