Interview with Dr. Jim Brewer of Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame - The Birthplace of America’s Music

"Mississippi is the birthplace of America's music. That music is known the world over."

Dr. Jim Brewer:

Greetings from Mississippi

Dr. James Brewer is sharing Mississippi’s music with thousands each year. Since founding the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, Brewer has produced a book, induction galas, Cds, teacher guides, and music industry seminars, all featuring Mississippi musicians. Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, headquartered in Clinton, MS, honors Mississippi's famous musicians. It is a "Who's Who" of the blues, rock and roll, and jazz from their beginnings to present day. The mission is to inform, educate, and celebrate Mississippi as the birthplace of America’s music, is a statewide organization with a long history of recognizing artists connected to the music of Mississippi.

The organization’s activities include inductions into the Hall of Fame, festivals, archival collections, tourist maps, blues in schools, music history curriculum in schools, publications, and website resources. 

Currently, the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame museum is located in the Jackson/ Evers International Airport. Dr. Brewer originated the slogan "Mississippi, birthplace of America’s music" that appears on highway signs and is on all new Mississippi car tags. A new Mississippi Music Experience gallery will be located in Jackson MS and will tell the story of Mississippi, birthplace of America’s music. It will also showcase other music sites across the state. Dr. Brewer was executive producer of a 45 minute documentary on Mississippi’s music history. For several years, the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame had been looking for a platform to showcase this state's musical heritage and musicians. In 1995, Brewer assembled a group of arts and music experts to discuss creating a music hall of fame. 

Dr. Brewer’s honors and awards are: Worldwide recognition of Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, Statewide winner of "Ageless Hero" award 2009, Recognized by governor as Arts and Humanities volunteer 2011, and Dedication plaque at Jackson/Evers International Airport music museum. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the culture of Mississippi and what does "Mississippi" mean to you?

It would take a book or two to describe Mississippi's culture because of its good and bad history. I have learned personally to be more tolerant of different types of people. Music will teach you that. Mississippi has been described as the birthplace of America's music. In fact, that is the MMHOF's official slogan and is now on all car tags in our state. Mississippi means to me the realization that so many world famous musicians are from here. This is a great since of pride when you realize that Mississippi is the poorest state in the US.

How does Mississippi culture and music affect your mood and inspiration?

Working with Mississippi's culture and music is a passion.

"Mississippi has been described as the birthplace of America's music. In fact, that is the MMHOF's official slogan and is now on all car tags in our state. Mississippi means to me the realization that so many world famous musicians are from here." (Photo: Dr. Brewer and Tom "Bones" Malone)

How started the thought of Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame? What characterize the philosophy of MMHOF?

18 years ago I attended a concert and a local university where a Mississippi musician's composition was performed. He had spent years in Hollywood composing for movies and playing in big bands. I ask myself, why we don’t have some way of honoring these great musicians. Out of that experience came the MMHOF.

You have come to know great musicians. Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Too many to list all but Leontyne Price, Marty Stuart, James Blackwood, Little Milton and the families of many, many musicians that have passed away. Our inductees go back as far as the 1700s.

Which memory makes you smile? 

When inductees cry because their state has recognized their work. 

Are there any memories which you'd like to share with us?

Guy Hovis of the Laurence Welk Show stood in the back of the auditorium after being inducted, hugged his plaques and cried.

What do you miss most nowadays from the old days of Mississippi folklore?

I don't miss anything from the old days. The MMHOF just tries to educate school children and the public about what it was like then and what part music had in our history.

Dr. Brewer and Vasti Jackson. Photo by Peggy R. Brown

How has changed over the years?

Mississippi is not the same as it was in the past. The races, while not perfect, work together just fine. Music has played a big part in the reconciliation between the races.

Some music stars can be fads but the bluesmen are always with us. What means to be Bluesman? 

Most, not all, blues singers are African-American. Blues is about telling a story and the blues singer sings about women, bad times, railroads, or anything that relates to how they feel.

Why did you think that the Mississippi music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Blues, rock, gospel, and country music talks about the soul, feelings, and basic human feelings. People respond to genuine feelings in music the world over.

What's the legacy of Mississippi in the world culture and music?

Mississippi is the birthplace of America's music. That music is known the world over.

What are your hopes and fears for the future?

Our own state leaders are now beginning to realize what a treasure our state's musical history is. Tourism is growing. The MMHOF is building a Mississippi Music Experience in Jackson, MS where tourist and others can see our story and find out about other music sites across the state.

Which is the most interesting period for the Mississippi music and culture?

Most likely how blues was born in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta.

What's been your experience as educator? 

I have been a college professor and am the founder of the MMHOF. It has been rewarding that in the past 18 years our state has learned about our musical heritage from the MMHOF. We got the ball rolling.

"Blues is about telling a story and the blues singer sings about women, bad times, railroads, or anything that relates to how they feel."

Which is the relationship Mississippi culture and new generation?

The MMHOF has just produced a 45 minute documentary/film on the history of our state's musical history. It is being placed in all school districts. We must educate this new generation about their history.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the Mississippi folklore?

Can't think of a laugh but there are many. I have been touched by the number of people who have given memorabilia for out Mississippi Music Experience. This includes a handmade wooden clock, handmade electric guitar, vintage wood, Civil War era musical instruments and much more. 

What are the lines that connect the Rock n' Roll, Gospel, Folk, Country with Soul, Folk, R&B, Jazz and Blues?

Blues is the root music that connects rock, country, Soul, R&B, jazz, and had a great influence on gospel.

Why all in case of blues and jazz started at Mississippi and what was the journey to North, Europe and beyond?

The blues was born in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta. Slaves worked in an isolated area called a plantation. As the years went by the blues that had been born escaped by railroad and river boat. Blues musicians learned from each other there in the delta.  Eventually the blues musicians traveled North to Chicago, St Louis, Detroit, etc. However, blues was accepted in Europe before it was in the US.

Where would you really wanna go via a time machine and what memorabilia would you put in?

I would like to visit Mississippi 25 years from now. I would take a cotton sack, cigar box guitar, diddley bow, and a blues musician. I would most likely be telling the same story that I am telling now.

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