Monday, March 7, 2016

My Nephew the Blues Boy Wins Bigtime Award

My nephew Scott Barretta at the Blues plaque unveiling.
My sister Patti's boy, Scott Barretta, has just won a prestigious award for all that wondrous work he's done in documenting the blues over the the years. Scott has worked with magazines, radio stations and the University of Mississippi in becoming a blues expert and recording its history, piece by piece.

He received the Governor’s Arts Award Feb. 11 for his many years of work with truly American music (which he fell in love with in Sweden).

Here's what Mississippi Public Broadcasting online's Sandra Knispel had to say:

Scott Barretta is not just the host of Highway 61, produced by the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. He’s also a writer, an instructor at the Ole Miss Anthropology and Sociology department, the past editor of Living Blues Magazine, and part of the group that created the B.B. King Museum in Indianola.  

“Scott is one of the reasons we know so much about Mississippi Blues and Mississippi culture,” says Mary Margaret Miller, who works for Visit Mississippi, the state’s tourism office.

"I think a lot of people would know Scott’s work because they’ve seen it on the roadside. He’s one of the scholars behind the Mississippi Blues Trail. So while you may not know his name you’ve likely taken your picture beside his scholarly research, you’ve heard him on the radio, you’ve read his column in the Clarion-Ledger."

“I’m happy to be the person that helps turn the spotlight to others," says Barretta. "I try to inform the public about the works of all these great people. So, it’s really quite humbling to have the spotlight turned to me for a minute or two.”

How did an outsider who grew up barely south of the Mason-Dixon line, in the suburbs of D.C., end up as one of the most authoritative voices on Mississippi Blues culture? The fascination started in his teens, says the now 50-year old.

“The way I got interested in Blues initially was probably through hearing rock artists performing Blues songs and then I began investigating and looking at these songs that were so interesting. Who is John Lee Hooker? Or who is McKinley Morganfield, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon? And so I began kind of randomly buying their records.”

One of Barretta’s best friends is Joe York, an award-winning documentary maker, who has collaborated with him on several projects and produces his weekly radio show. The two met in Oxford in 2001 when York rented an apartment right behind Barretta’s. He remembers vividly Barretta’s crammed quarters:

“There may be 30,000 LPs, you know. All Blues, Jazz, Country, R&B. I remember walking in and thinking ‘Who the hell is this person? Where did all this come from?’  It’s shocking the amount of music this man lives with.” 

Barretta, who now lives in Greenwood, got his professional start in Sweden where he edited a Blues magazine, written in Swedish while studying towards a PhD at Lund University. "It wasn’t until I moved to Sweden that I realized ‘Oh, I can start writing about the music.’ You know, if I had not moved to Sweden I would just be a guy with bunch of records who went to a lot of shows, I think. I never would have become a Blues scholar, as they say,” he muses.

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