Editor, Commonwealth:

I’d like to take a minute to talk about something that personally gives me purpose and hope.

The Delta is the birthplace of American music. It is the foundation of the blues, which begot the birth of rock ’n roll. As a matter of fact, from where I sit typing this, within one hour’s time, you can visit the hometowns of musical icons whose work has changed the world for people of all races, genders and ages.

• B.B. King, the King of the Blues

• Johnny Russell, Grand Ole Opry member and country music legend

• Edgar and Johnny Winter, guitar virtuosos and rock legends

• Albert King, American blues icon

• Sam Cooke, music pioneer and one of the first black artists to ever own his own studio

• John Lee Hooker, blues innovator and legend

I’ll stop there because it could go on forever. All of the masters of music were born in the Mississippi Delta. It doesn’t go unnoticed. Cleveland recently became home to the Grammy Museum Mississippi. It’s an incredible accomplishment, and everyone involved in the process of procurement of the museum should be greatly appreciated. I’m both thankful and excited about the young people of Mississippi learning about the impressive history and origins of Mississippi’s impact on music.

There is something very disheartening, I must admit. Songwriting, the crafting of music, is the most freeing and satisfying expression of the human experience, in my humble opinion. I traveled to Tupelo mid-summer last year to take a workshop from Cleveland native and hit songwriter Clay Mills. As a novice lyricist and co-writer of songs with friends all over the globe, I was shocked to discover that there are no associations or arts councils in the Delta teaching and encouraging the craft of songwriting. The closest regularly scheduled workshops are in Tupelo and Columbus. I’m not even certain about Jackson. With our rich musical history, I find this unacceptable. Columbus, while being a larger town than Greenwood, has almost no musical connections.

Young people grow up in the Delta with huge pipe dreams of being a sports star, an almost unachievable task without God-given talent and size. The arts are a real, attainable dream. The crafting of a song is a never-ending self-evaluation and reckoning. It teaches both humility and communication skills. It’s one of the most incredible ways to express how you feel. Young people in the Delta need it more than anyone, growing up in dire poverty, lowly opportunity, and failing support systems and mental health programs. It has never been more important.

Billy Sayle


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