Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival
CLARKSDALE – With all roads leading to Clarksdale during 2003’s Year of the Blues celebration, the Sunflower River Blues Association is promising an awesome 16th annual festival Aug. 8 and 9.

“More than 20,000 music fans from 17 countries and 38 states loved the 2002 festival,” said co-chairmen Nat McMullen and Melville Tillis

“We’re expecting an even larger crowd here in the birthplace of blues this summer; our lineups are outstanding,” the two festival leaders announced this week following booking reports at the association’s recent meeting in the Delta Blues Museum.

The 2003 festival is being dedicated as a special tribute to Clarksdale’s native son Muddy Waters and three recently deceased Sunflower legends, Othar Turner, founder of the Rising Star Fife and Drum Corps, his daughter, Bernice Turner Pratcher, and Delta gospel great James Williams.


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“Othar and Bernice performed and led processions for every Sunflower Festival since it began in 1988,” said Catherine Clark, longtime festival treasurer. “They will be painfully missed, but we are planning on Othar’s granddaughter Sharde and other members of the group to continue the tradition.”

Gospel co-founder Melville Tillis said, “James Williams was a faithful member of our organization; his group James Williams and the Messengers was renowned in the gospel world, and headlined many of our festivals. He telephoned the week of his death to let us know he would miss our meeting because of surgery.”

Nat McMullen added, “Our third Sunflower Festival at Soldiers Field paid tribute to Muddy Waters, but we feel it is important to repeat the dedication to this hometown giant during the Year of the Blues; his contributions to blues, rock, and other music genres are monumental.” .

The tribute to Muddy Waters featuring Bob Margolin, Hubert Sumlin, Carey Bell, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith will headline the Saturday night stage.

Preceding them will be an equally prestigious group: the Jelly Roll All-Stars with Sam Carr, Arthur Williams, Bob Lohr, Pennsylvania Slim, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.

The soulful blues of Latimore closes out the Friday night stage following a red-hot gig by Clarksdale’s macho man O.B. Buchana.

Other performers include quintessential bluesman Honeyboy Edwards, who put the cotton fields of Shaw behind him and hopped freights to perform across the Delta decades ago. In the early 1940s he was recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax in a church on the King and Anderson plantation near Clarksdale before moving on to Chicago and a global audience.

The unique pairing of Cedell Davis with his kitchen knife blues, and Jimbo Mathus, who cut his teeth on Delta blues while visiting his Malvezzi grandparents in Clarksdale and Charley Patton’s daughter in Duncan, should be a dynamite combination.

Performing also will be Johnny Rawls, Big George Brock, John Mohead, “Big T” Terry Williams, Arthneice Jones, the Wesley Jefferson Band, The Deep Cuts, John Ruskey, Tater Foster, and the Blues Education students.

According to festival officials, the lineup is still a work in progress, and a second acoustic stage is being planned in addition to the traditional stage inside Clarksdale Station. Festival updates continually are being posted on the association’s web page: www.sunflowerfest.org.

Blues association secretary Yvonne Stanford reports hundreds of fund-raising letters are being prepared for mailing.

“We need everyone’s financial support to keep this wonderful entertainment free; it’s Clarksdale’s largest single tourism event. Contributions to the blues association are tax deductible, and sponsors are thanked and publicized from the stage, in the festival program, and on the web page,” she said.

The festival is produced entirely by volunteers.




top left: Muddy Waters
top right: James Williams
bottom left: Otha Turner
bottom right: Bernice Turner Pratcher




Floyd Taylor, heir to America’s late, great soul master, Johnny Taylor, will be replacing Latimore on the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival’ s Friday night stage Aug. 8, Nat McMullen and Melville Tillis, festival co-chairmen announced this week.

“We regret a booking conflict is preventing Latimore’s performance here, but we are excited over presenting Floyd Taylor, a super-talented, charismatic young musician,”McMullen said. “His Malaco recording, Legacy, is earning rave reviews.”

Tillis said Taylor bears a striking resemblance to his famous father and has performed with Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin, The O’Jays, Buddy Guy, Tyrone Davis, and Bobby Rush.

Headlining the festival’s Saturday night stage in a tribute to Coahoma County’s native son Muddy Waters are the Bob Margolin Blues Allstars featuring Margolin, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, and Carey Bell.

Perkins was a key figure during a 1988 Muddy Waters tribute when rockers ZZ Top unveiled the Muddywood guitar in a media extravaganza outside the Delta Blues Museum. He and other former Muddy Waters band members played together at the Cotton Exchange, a club on Sunflower Ave. owned by musician John Mohead.

Later Perkins performed with harp master Snooky Pryor at the third Sunflower Festival when it was held on Soldiers Field.

The Delta Blues Museum’s Arts and Education program held each year in conjunction with the festival also honors Muddy Waters with a talk Friday, Aug. 8, by his biographer Robert Gordon of Memphis.

The educational program, which is free and being coordinated by Mae Smith, museum interpretation specialist, begins at noon Thursday, Aug. 7.

Speakers include Phoenix Savage, Lane Wilkins, Jay Kirgis, Greg Johnson, director of the Blues Archives at the University of Mississippi, Greg Ellis, and Preston Lauterbach, features editor of Living Blues magazine. Music will be presented by the Delta Blues students.

The complete festival lineup and education program schedule are listed online at www.sunflowerfest.org. Both are funded in part by the Coahoma County Tourism Commission and the Mississippi Arts Commission.


Floyd Taylor

Bob Margolin

A key figure in the 1988 Muddy Waters tribute unveiling the Muddywood guitar staged by rockers ZZ Top, Pinetop Perkins is interviewed by MTV host Kurt Loder outside Carnegie Public Library.






Jul 22, 2014 - 11:15AM
Mississippi Delta
Start making plans to attend the Sunflower River #Blues and #Gospel #Festival in @visitclarksdale. http://t.co/krzLCW0aJV
Jul 17, 2014 - 12:50AM
V. Verdi
John Fahey - Sunflower River Blues (1967 Version): http://t.co/kjrJ4slKy0 via @YouTube