Museum Director pushes Delta Blues legacy to thrive

November 01, 2013

Shelley Ritter has been working to preserve and encourage the Delta blues legacy since 2003 as Executive Director of the Delta Blues Museum, a nationally recognized tribute to the legacy and spirit of the blues musicians of the Mississippi Delta. The museum uses photography, artifacts and interactive interpretations through permanent and traveling exhibits to keep the Delta blues heritage alive and share the spirit exemplified by musicians like Robert Johnson and Sam Cooke with locals and visitors alike.

The Delta Blues Museum is the oldest music museum in Mississippi, established in 1979 as part of the Carnegie Public Library in Clarksdale, Miss. – the “crossroads” of Highways 61 and 49 known as “the land where blues began.” Located in the historic Clarksdale freight depot since 1999, the museum houses permanent and traveling exhibits including the Delta Blues Museum Stage, which serves as the main venue for many of Clarksdale’s most famous music events, such as the Sunflower River Blues and Juke Joint Festivals.

“It’s really significant that Clarksdale recognized the importance of the blues back in 1979 when this started,” Ritter said. “I have always been really proud that this museum exists, and it’s an honor to be a part of the museum and help it move forward to celebrate all of these incredible artists from Clarksdale and the Delta area that really changed music the way that we know it.”

The museum recently added 7,300 square feet of gallery space to the freight depot and has launched the Deeper Roots Campaign to raise $1.2 million for expansion of existing exhibits that will delve further into the story of the blues. The new wing houses the Muddy Waters cabin and will exhibit the heritage of Clarksdale and Coahoma County during the 1940s.

Ritter’s direction has led the museum to nationally recognized success, receiving two nationally competitive awards in 2013 - the Keeping the Blues Alive Award from The Blues Foundation and the National Medal for Museum and Library Services, the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries, which First Lady Michelle Obama presented to Ritter at a ceremony at the White House in May. The museum was also a finalist for the 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award for their arts and education program, which teaches students of all ages to sing and play the blues, even recording two albums during the year-round program.

The museum has been recognized within the Delta region with the Delta Best Award from the Mississippi Delta Strategic Compact in 2012 for outstanding contributions to tourism and a partnership award from the Mississippi Delta Chapter of The Links, Inc., an African American women’s service organization, for its service contributions. It has and continues to excel in capturing the heritage of the Delta region and boosting tourism by effectively educating all those who visit on the richness of Delta culture.

For more information about the Delta Blues Museum, please visit their website.