Joining the Sunflower River Blues Festival’s team continuing to make musical history for more than three decades this summer August 13 – 15 with renewed support and expanded sponsorship are Coahoma Community College, HPI, LLP, and Visit Clarksdale (Coahoma/Clarksdale Tourism Commission).
Other major contributors whose support keeps the festival admission free include Hyde Brothers/True Value Hardware, Clarksdale Public Utilities (CPU), the Mississippi Arts Commission, Coopwood Publications, Delta Health Care Northwest Regional, John Sweeney, and Kevin Patrick.
Since the festival was established in 1983 by LIVING BLUES magazine co-founder Jim O’Neal and Dr. Patricia Johnson, its biracial membership morphed into a family affair.
And among its longtime supporters whose influence still continue to make a difference today is the late blues historian and educator Melville Tillis who served as festival co-chairman for many years and also as chairman of the Public Utilities Commission.
Tillis also owned the River Mount Lounge, one of Mississippi’s most popular blues clubs where Little Milton, Bobby Rush, Clayton Love and Ike Turner loved to perform and always visited when they were in town.
Inheriting her father’s expertise, love of blues and education, Melvita Tillis Presley serves as festival chairman today. And longtime board members: John Sherman, attorney and VIP chairman; Maie Smith, booking chair; and Catherine Clark, treasurer, are all still busy today at their posts.
And continuing to volunteer his longtime services as festival webmaster as well is John Moore of Sedalia, Mo., and his 305 Spin organization.
The late Marvin Carraway, manager of Clarksdale Public Utilities, who pulled Clarksdale through the 1994 Ice Storm was also a significant Sunflower supporter.
When Carraway and Tillis attended energy functions across the U.S., they became cheerleaders and unpaid but enthusiastic tourism officials for Clarksdale, the Mississippi Delta, and the Sunflower Festival
The Sunflower’s famous spiritual leader who attended every festival meeting was “The Soul Man” – WROX Radio’s Early Wright whose unique nightly broadcasts and interviews made him a legend on CNN and even THE NEW YORK TIMES.
Each year the festival presents its highest honor – the Early Wright Blues Heritage Award to an individual for “Outstanding work to “preserve, promote, perpetuate, and document the blues in its homeland, the Mississippi Delta.”
The festival is a non- profit organization staged entirely by volunteers with the exception of sound and lighting professionals.
And its “laid-back” signature has welcomed visitors from Europe, Asia, the UK, South America, and special “cousins” from our Sister City: Notodden, Norway, for more than three decades.
Our 2013 festival apparently was memorable for John E. Sweeney of Beverly Hills, a famous civil rights attorney and protégé of Johnnie Cochran. He is returning this summer with 30 of his friends to celebrate his 70th birthday beneath the Sunflower’s VIP tent.
Visit the John E. Sweeney Firm website on the Internet and be prepared for an extraordinarily interesting success story too impressive to describe.
Sweeney is flying his corps of 30 VIP friends into Memphis, and they will be arriving on chartered buses in Clarksdale for the Sunflower Festival.
Please check Coahoma Community College’s website and the festival’s website: www.sunflowerfest.org for lineups and additional information.