Monday, June 6, 2016

Blues and Bluegrass "on the porch" June 18

Wildwood Express
Wildwood Express and the Chuck Freeman Band will open this summer's Concert on the Porch series Saturday, June 18. The free performance starts at 7 p.m., live from the porch of the John Estes home on the grounds of the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville.

Chuck Freeman Band
The evening will open with the Chuck Freeman Band. Freeman grew up in Memphis and was greatly influenced by rhythm and blues as well as rock and roll. He moved to Jackson in the late 1980s and began playing country bass for artist such as Rayburn Anthony and Johnny Newman. Switching to lead guitar and forming his own band in the 1990s, Freeman went back to his R&B roots and performs regularly from Corinth to Paducah.

Wildwood Express, an area favorite, are back for their fifth performance on the porch. All members of the Jackson Tennessee Area Plectral Society, this band specializes in performing and preserving the old time stringed music including bluegrass gospel, instrumentals and old time country. Instruments of choice include the banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, upright bass and guitar. The band is made up of Grover Westover, Paul Jackson, Gary Spraggins and Coley and Marilyn Graves.
Bleacher seating is available or bring lawn chairs for the outdoor concert. Concessions will be available on site. You are also welcome to bring a picnic or visit the surrounding restaurants.
Concert on the Porch is presented free and offered once a month on the third Saturday, June through September. For a complete schedule of upcoming concerts, visit or call 731-779-9000.
The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center is a Music Heritage Destination along the Gold Record Road of the Americana Music Triangle.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lunchtime lecture spotlights Tennessee butterflies

Award-winning writer and photographer, Rita Venable, will talk about and sign copies of her book Butterflies of Tennessee during a lunchtime lecture at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center Wednesday, April 8. The event will begin at 11:30 a.m., and is free to the public.

Butterflies of Tennessee, published in 2014, is a collection of full color photos and descriptions of all 124 species of butterflies found in Tennessee. During her talk, Venable will share which butterflies you are seeing, whether you are walking in the woods or a formal garden. Beyond identifications, she’ll also show how to invite butterflies into your home gardens and tips on butterfly-watching.

Venable has published numerous articles and photographs in literary publications, newspapers and magazines including American Butterflies, American Gardener, Backpacker, Discover the Outdoors and National Wildlife Online. She has won awards in writing and photography from the Tennessee Outdoor Writers Association and Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. Venable also served as an artist-in-residence in creative writing for five years with the Tennessee Arts Commission.

As an assistant biologist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, she has conducted biological surveys in state parks and natural areas across the state. Venable has worked to develop butterfly checklists for individual parks, led field trips, and conducted training sessions for naturalists and spoke at wildflower festivals and other state park events.

She has served as editor of Butterfly Gardener, a publication of the North American Butterfly Association and founded the Middle Tennessee Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association. She most enjoys connecting people with the butterflies that live around them.

For more information about the lunch lecture and Venable’s visit, contact the Center at 731-779-9000 or

Books will be available for $24.95. 

For more information about Venable and Butterflies of Tennessee, visit

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Live Blues music comes to downtown Brownsville

Other than a festival or special event, live Blues music has not been heard in downtown Brownsville in years. The West Tennessee Blues Society (WTBS) is changing this with the introduction of Jammin’ at Mr. Jimmy’s. Blues musicians, and those who enjoy the music, are invited to Jimmy’s Farmers Market and Deli Thursday, February 19, at 6 p.m., for the first of what will become a monthly jam session. Jimmy’s is located at 40 North Washington, just off the historic court square. There is no cover charge.

“Brownsville has a rich heritage surrounding Blues music,” says WTBS President Elam McKnight, “and we’re excited to be adding to this history.”
The society plans to present an informal jam, featuring its own jam band, each third Thursday of the month. Besides the Brownsville event, it will also be planning meetings and other events across West Tennessee. Those interested in joining the jam should bring their own instruments.
Jimmy Donald is ready to welcome Blues enthusiasts and musicians to his market and deli for Jammin’ at Mr. Jimmy’s on the third Thursday of each month, beginning February 19.
Inside Jimmy’s, the walls are covered with music memorabilia and nostalgia items from the past. Owner Jimmy Donald remembers coming to town as a young boy and hearing Blues music played on Friday and Saturday nights, something he has missed since moving back to Brownsville.
“It’s still in my blood,” says Donald. “I want to bring that back for the young people to enjoy, like I did growing up.”
Donald, a retired educator, is a Humboldt native whose family farm is located in Haywood County. He opened his market in 2009 offering home grown produce, cold cuts and deli meats and most recently, grilled burgers and hot dogs; all will be available on the night of the jam.
For more information about the jam session or the WTBS, contact McKnight at 731-487-8623 or email
About the WTBS: The West Tennessee Blues Society (WTBS) is dedicated to preserving the "West Tennessee Blues" by educating the public on the influences and traditions of our Blues heritage and promoting the area's Blues music through live performances of local and regional artists. The society encompasses the rural areas of West Tennessee that lies between the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers.


Monday, February 9, 2015

"The Test" exhibition looks at first black aviators

"The Test, The Tuskegee Project," an exhibition about the first African-American aviators in the United States military will open in the lobby of the Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville, Tenn., Sunday, February 15. Presented by the Geneva Miller Historical Society,  the exhibit is designed by Brownsville native and renown photographer, Jerry Taliaferro. It is a unique presentation of history that includes depictions based upon first-hand accounts of participants in the action. The exhibit will remain on view through March 21.
In April 1943, after months of training and preparation, the 99th Fighter Squadron, an aviation unit that consisted entirely of African-American personnel, landed in North Africa. This was the beginning of the test phase of an experiment that began many months earlier at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Its purpose - to determine if black men were capable of being effective combat aviators. This exhibition tells the story of these men; their struggles in combat overseas and against prejudice and racism in America.
The incredible graphics are the heart of the exhibition.  Meticulously researched and carefully crafted depictions of actions in which the airmen were involved bring the stories to life.  Most of the graphics and aviation art were developed specifically for the exhibition to give visitors a "wingman" view to history. The illustrations of actions and aircrafts along with models and an easily understood narrative makes the exhibition an enjoyable experience for most visitors.  
The exhibit is free and open to the public. The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center is located at 121 Sunny Hill Cove in Brownsville, Tenn., just off of Interstate 40 at Exit 56. For more information about the program, call the Center at 731-779-9000 or email
"Enter the 332nd Fighter Group" is one of 12 interpretive panels depicting the story of the Tuskegee experiment to determine if African American pilots were effective combat aviators. The free exhibit also contains models of the planes and will be on display at the Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville Feb. 15 - Mar. 21.
Jerry Taliaferro
About Jerry Taliaferro: Taliaferro, fresh out of high school, joined the Army and entered the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. His real interest in photography began when he was posted to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and while serving in Germany. In 1985, he was published for the first time when a Munich magazine purchased the rights to one of his images. After returning to the United States, he left the military and began his pursuit of a career in commercial photography and fine art photography. Taliaferro currently resides in North Carolina. More about Taliaferro and his work can be found at

About the Geneva Miller Historical Society: The Geneva Miller Historical Society is named in honor of a renowned teacher of history at Haywood County Training/Carver High School in Brownsville, Tenn. The major work of the society focuses on researching the past and using this information and collected artifacts as the basis of free public presentations and exhibits. For more information or to make a donation, contact Dr. Dorothy Granberry at

Friday, January 30, 2015

Black History program examine “Where do we go from here”

Cynthia Bond Hopson
 “Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?” This question from Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1967 book of the same title will be the theme for the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center’s Black History Month program, Saturday, February 7, at 2 p.m.  Noted author, Haywood County native and cultural historian, Cynthia Bond Hopson, will speak and facilitate a panel of local leaders.

Panelists will include Haywood County’s first elected African American Sheriff, Melvin Bond; Brownsville’s first African American Mayor W. D. Rawls Jr.; Fred Silverstein Jr., Chair of the Human Rights Commission; Douglass Community organizer and educator Johnetta Walker Neal; Brownsville Alderman and former housing administrator Carolyn B. Flagg; County Mayor Franklin Smith; and activist and business owner, Cynthia Rawls Bond. 
“This chaos or community topic was Dr. King’s examination of American race relations and the movement after a decade of U.S. civil rights struggles. It offers a perfect opportunity to reflect, renew and recommit to building bridges of love and hope,” says Bond Hopson, whose books on Haywood County include The Women of Haywood: Their Lives, Our Legacy, Wiggle Tales and Times of Challenge and Controversy.
According to Bond Hopson,When Dr. King wrote ‘somewhere somebody must have some sense. People must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love,’ he wanted us to understand we have the power to change the world through lives of service and deliberate action. Our distinguished panelists have done just that.”
Following the program, Bond Hopson will sign copies of her books.  This is a free event. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Skills clinic; symposium added to annual Country Blues Jam

West Tennessee Bluesmen Linzie Butler and Elam McKnight perform during last year's Country Blues Jam. 
 The second annual Sleepy John’s Country Blues Jam will be held Saturday, January 24, 11 a.m., at the Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville, Tenn. In addition to an acoustic jam session, skill clinics for the harmonica and slide guitar have been added, as well as a symposium. The free event recognizes the birthday and legacy of Blues pioneer Sleepy John Estes and is presented in partnership with the West Tennessee Blues Society

Musicians Elam McKnight and Jimmy D. Taylor share their knowledge and skills during 11 a.m. clinics in their respective fields. Slide guitar enthusiast, McKnight, is well known in the blues, rock and country genres, and has recently released his fifth studio album. Taylor, a Brownsville native, has been playing harmonica since 1991, and now builds and sells them worldwide. Participants are asked to pre-register by calling the Center and are asked to bring their own instruments.

Following the clinics, BBQ Express concessions will be on site offering lunch selections. A birthday cake recognizing what would have been Sleepy John's 116th birthday will be served at 12:30 p.m. Throughout the day, attendees are invited to tour the Delta Heritage Center and grounds including the last home of Estes and Flagg Grove School, the childhood school of Tina Turner.
A symposium will begin at 1 p.m., discussing “The Influence of West Tennessee’s Country Blues.” The panel will consist of musicologist David Evans and music historian Michael Baker. They will discuss the impact of the music and compare and contrast West Tennessee’s unique sound.
Evans, a Grammy Award winner, author and Professor at the University of Memphis School of Music, has produced over 30 albums and numerous books on Blues history. He travels the world performing as a solo act and with the Last Chance Jug Band.
Baker’s lifelong interest in music and music history has made him an expert on the life and music of “Sonny Boy” Williamson and, after finding his grave, was instrumental in marking it with a headstone and establishing a historical marker at the site. He served as talent coordinator for the Shannon Street Blues Festival for 21 years.
An open acoustic jam session will follow at 2:30 p.m. Participants are encouraged to bring their own instruments, voice or just your love for the music.  This jam session is non-competitive and open to everyone.
For more information about the event or to pre-register for the harmonica or slide guitar clinic, call the Center at 731-779-9000 or email

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A timeless tale of teaching

Special to the Delta Heritage Center by Emily Pugh
East Side Elementary Teacher Joni Taylor describes to her 5th grade class what school would have been like at Flagg Grove School in the early 1900s. The students participated in the first lesson to be taught in the one-room schoolhouse since the mid-1960s.
“Your dream cannot work without education.” These words, spoken by Nutbush native Tina Turner, are what visitors hear while touring the newly-restored Flagg Grove School at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville, Tenn. Recently, two local 5th grade classes experienced what it must have been like to attend the one room schoolhouse.  On November 24, the East Side Elementary classes of teachers Joni Taylor and Wendy Piercey were given the unique distinction of being the first students taught in the school since its closure in the mid-1960s.
As the children stepped inside the schoolhouse, Taylor numbered each child off to signify the eight grades taught in the one room building. The students sat, some  in the original desks and some on the floor, while experiencing first-hand the lessons and challenges.
Each “grade” was given a different assignment that was written on the school's original chalkboard. For example, first grade was asked to write their name 10 times, and "print clearly;" eighth grade was told to write a five paragraph essay while other students did arithmetic or simple sentences.
Students were given a history lesson about life "back in the day." Taylor explained that the school was an African-American school and built 24 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves.
"This equals 24 years of children growing up without a formal education," Taylor explained. “What do you think they were doing instead of going to school?"
Taylor explained that children would have their own chores, from boys picking cotton and working as farm hands to girls helping cook and washing and mending clothes.
These daily routines were altered somewhat when Flagg Grove School was built in 1889. Education became the focus in the little community. Most children walked to school and each family paid one dollar per child, per month, for the teacher’s salary.
Taylor told them about outhouses and explained about the potbelly stove. Not only did the kids get to experience the inside of the school, they each rang the school bell and tried their hand at the old well pump outside. Many proclaiming they were happy to be attending school in this century.
Students also visited the museums and exhibits inside the Delta Heritage Center, on a special tour lead by Mrs. Piercey, and were excited to learn that people from all over the world stop in Brownsville to see the Center. According to Center director, Sonia Outlaw-Clark, more than 22,000 visitors have stopped so far this year from all 50 states and 35 countries.
The children's experience in the 125-year-old school building, coupled with its rich history, continues to emphasize the importance of education and the school's unique legacy.
About the author: Emily Pugh, a Brownsville native, is in her first year of college at the University of Memphis. She is studying Public Relations with hopes to work in the tourism field.