Date of Award

2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Music

First Advisor

Timothy Rommen

Abstract

Since the 1990s, a growing heritage tourism industry built around celebrations and commemorations of local blues music history has occupied a prominent economic position in the state of Mississippi. The blues tourism industry has produced museums, historical trails, and a dense calendar of festivals and other celebratory events that aim to recreate, reconstruct, and revive iconic blues communities state-wide. This dissertation is a study of the contemporary celebration of the blues as cultural heritage in North Mississippi. It asks why, how, and to what end the celebration of the blues became so pervasive and well supported in the state. In it, I trace the phenomenon of celebration and festivity from the auralities of mid-century musicological folklore and revivalism, through the contemporary expediencies of heritage tourism, focusing on musical events as sites of heritage celebration. I examine the ways in which the discourses and practices of heritage are mapped onto musical cultures in the American South, arguing that through regimes of heritage, music becomes a powerful tool of collective memory, historical consciousness, and civic mythology. The ethnographic thrust of my research focuses on the collective of people in attendance at a handful of festivals across North Mississippi. I employ a theoretical framework borrowed from tourism and mobility studies to examine the cultural intimacies and imaginaries that emerge in and around these festivals, thinking critically about their intersections with the political and economic expediencies that the industry produces. I ultimately make an argument about the historical emergence of listening practices associated with roots music fandom, an aural ethos inherited from and formed in the image of the iconic white folklorists, musicologists, and ‘song-hunters’ who have called attention to black musics and memories of this region since the early-20th century. I call this concept ‘archival aurality,’ and I use it as the primary critical lens through which to think about the role of race, memory, and listening in the construction of musical Americana and heritage practice across the deep South.

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