Held on the third Saturday in September, Greenville’s Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival is one of the South’s longest-running blues music festivals. Mississippi Action for Community Education (MACE), a nonprofit Greenville-based community development organization, began staging the festival in 1977. Mississippi’s first celebration of the music so closely tied to the Delta, it regularly attracts fans from throughout the United States and Europe and has inspired many other blues festivals around the state.
The festival initially took place at Freedom Village, outside Leland, one of several sites where Mississippi’s African Americans who had been displaced from their work and homes because of their involvement in civil rights activities had lived temporarily during the 1960s. Beginning in the mid-1980s, MACE held the festival on eighty acres of land south of Greenville, and it now takes place at the Washington County Convention Center in Greenville.
Over four decades, the festival has featured many legendary Mississippi blues musicians, including Muddy Waters, Big Joe Williams, John Lee Hooker, Sam Chatmon, and countless others. MACE has also used the festival to showcase blues musicians from the mid-Delta, among them such regular performers as guitarists Eddie Cusic and John Horton, vocalist Mamie Davis, and pianist Jerry Kattawar.
MACE operates various other programs as part of its mission to create physical, social, and economic development in the rural Delta. Since 1990, as part of its Delta Arts Project, MACE has sponsored the Blues in Schools program, which brings musicians to perform in Washington County schools.
Among Mississippi’s dozens of blues festivals, the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival stands out for its size, its longevity, and its roots in a community-organizing group.
- Stephen King, I’m Feeling the Blues Right Now: Blues Tourism and the Mississippi Delta (2011)
- Mississippi Action for Community Education, Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival Program Booklet (1980, 1998)