Celebrating the American South:
Roots, Routes, and Renditions – A Trilogy of the Blues

Celebrating the American South: Roots, Routes, and Renditions – A Trilogy of the Blues is an interdisciplinary festival that focuses on the genesis, development and impact of the blues, arguably the most influential style of American popular music in the 20th century.


Celebrating the American South: Roots, Routes, and Renditions - A Trilogy of the Blues

James “Son” Thomas, Atlanta, GA 1984. Photo by Jim Alexander.

Photo Exhibit

Blues Legacy: 50 Years of Blues from the Mississippi Delta to NYC
Photographs by Jim Alexander

Monday, February 15 – Sunday, February 28
Reception and Artist’s Talk: Thursday, February 25, 4 p.m. 

Art Gallery, GSU Student Center East, 3rd Floor, 55 Gilmer Street
Gallery Hours: Monday-Friday 7 a.m.- 9 p.m., Saturday-Sunday: 12 noon- 9 p.m.
FREE and open to the public!

Documentary Film Series

The Blues: A Musical Journey

Monday, February 22 – Wednesday, February 24, multiple times
Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, Central Library Auditorium, One Margaret Mitchell Sq.
FREE and open to the public!


Thursday, February 25, 1 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday, February 26, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Saturday, February 27, 10 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

Kopleff Recital Hall, 10 Peachtree Center Ave.
FREE and open to the public!


Shemekia Copeland performs Sing the Chicago Blues Electric!

Saturday, February 27, 8 p.m.
Rialto Center for the Arts, 80 Forsyth St. N.W.
Tickets: rialto.gsu.edu/event/shemekia-copeland

The roots of the blues can be traced to the use of West African string instruments that provided accompaniment to the plaintive spirituals of enslaved Africans in the south, and the work songs of share-croppers and railroad and chain gang men of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The blues directly impacted the evolution of jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll (American and British). It also influenced soul, funk, and other styles of American popular music, as well as many forms of world music.

The festival kicks off with an exhibition of photography by Jim Alexander, who has spent over forty years documenting the blues at festivals, concerts, and cultural events. Alexander’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in many public and private collections, including the Smithsonian. The exhibition will take place at the Student Center East.

The blues are further showcased in a screening of documentary films hosted by the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library. The Blues: A Musical Journey is a seven-part series produced by Martin Scorsese. Each film is directed by a different filmmaker and each focuses on a different aspect of the blues, including artist profiles and musical influences.

Documentary Film Series Schedule

12 noon    Red, White & Blues   Retrospective on British blues-influenced music of the 1960's. Directed by Mike Figgis. (93 mins)

3 p.m.   The Soul of a Man   Exploration of the lives of Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson, and J.B. Lenoir. Directed by Wim Wenders. (127 mins)

12 noon   Feel Like Going Home   Examination of the African origins of the blues. Directed by Martin Scorsese. (110 mins)

2 p.m.   Warming by the Devil's Fire   Fictional tale about the tensions between gospel and the blues. Directed by Charles Burnett. (106 mins)

4 p.m.   The Road to Memphis   Tracing the musical odyssey of B.B. King. Directed by Richard Pearce. (119 mins)

12 noon   Piano Blues   Spotlighting blues pianists such as Ray Charles, Dr. John, and Dave Brubeck. Directed by Clint Eastwood. (85 mins)

3 p.m.   Godfathers and Sons   Exploration of the relationship between Chicago blues and contemporary hip-hop. Directed by Marc Levin. (133 mins)

The symposium, which delves deep into blues history, is divided into three parts, each of which is devoted to examining different aspects of the blues. Part one examines the roots of the blues, including evolution and early pioneers. Part two examines routes of the blues, specifically the migratory paths of blues musicians.  Finally, part three explores renditions of the blues and its influence on popular music and other musical styles. All symposium events take place at Kopleff Recital Hall unless otherwise noted.

Symposium Schedule

1 p.m.   Root Women: The Mother and Empress of the Blues. Lecture by Karma Mayet Johnson, composer/performer/blues scholar.

2 p.m.    Delta Blues: The Impact of Guitarist from the Dockery Plantation. Lecture by Dr. Gordon Vernick, Coordinator of Jazz Studies at GSU.

3 p.m.   Give My Poor Heart Ease. Readings from the stage adaptation by Ashley Melzer, writer/photographer/filmmaker.

4 p.m.   Opening Reception at the GSU Student Center East. Featuring a talk by Jim Alexander, photographer. Light refreshments served. 

7: 30 p.m.   Memphis and Four Decades of the Blues. Lecture by Stanley Booth, writer/music journalist.

8:30 p.m.   Chi-Town: Home of the Urban Blues. Lecture by Dr. Oliver Greene, Associate Professor of Music at GSU.

9 a.m.  From Georgia Tom to the Father of the Gospel: The Story of Thomas Dorsey and Blues Based Gospel. Lecture by Marva Carter, Associate Professor of Music at GSU.

10 a.m.   100 Years of Piano Blues.  Lecture and demonstration by Geoffrey Hayden, Coordinator of Jazz Piano at GSU.

11 a.m.   Blues as a Compositional Technique in "Ma' Rainey's Black Bottom" and other August Wilson Plays. Lecture by Dwight Andrews, Associate Professor of Music at Emory University.

12 noon   Indigo: A Blues Opera.  Excerpted performance by Karma Mayet Johnson accompanied by André Lassalle on guitar.

10 a.m.   Blues Master Class.  With instructor Shemekia Copeland, blues vocalist.

11:15 a.m.   Revealing the Relationships between Delta Blues, Chicago Blues, and Jazz.  Musical demonstration by the GSU Blues and Jazz Combo, directed by David Frackenpohl.

The festival concludes with a performance by two-time GRAMMY® nominee Shemekia Copeland (daughter of late Texas guitar legend Johnny) at the Rialto Center for the Arts. Copeland has opened for the Rolling Stones, headlined the Chicago Blues Festival, shared the stage with blues giants Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Mick Jagger, and Eric Clapton, performed at the White House, and was declared the new “Queen of the Blues” by official proclamation of the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois.
GaHumanitiesLogo_ JPG

GSU Faculty Project Lead:  Oliver Greene, Associate Professor of World Music and Ethnomusicology

This project is supported by Georgia Humanities Council through appropriations from the Georgia General Assembly.