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May 29 - August 17, 2007


Frank Frost, Clarksdale, Mississippi, 1998; © Margo Cooper All Rights Reserved.
Frank Frost, Clarksdale, Mississippi, 1998
© Margo Cooper All Rights Reserved

Deep Inside the Blues: the Photography of Margo Cooper

Dodd Research Center Gallery
Curator: Kristin Eshelman

Estella Smith and Granddaughter Stella, Greenville, Mississippi, 2003; © Margo Cooper All Rights Reserved.
Othar Turner, Gravel Springs, Mississippi, 1999; © Margo Cooper All Rights Reserved.
Estella Smith and Granddaughter Stella, Greenville, Mississippi, 2003
Margo Cooper All Rights Reserved.
Othar Turner, Gravel Springs, Mississippi, 1999
Margo Cooper All Rights Reserved.

My friend Guernsey introduced me to the blues when we were in high school. Our lives were far removed from the scene: the hill country of north Mississippi, the Mississippi Delta, the West and South Sides of Chicago--yet the music moved something inside us. Twenty-five years later I packed up my camera and traveled to these destinations. I wanted to experience the blues for myself, both inside and outside the clubs.

This project chronicles the lives of blues musicians, their families and homes, their neighborhood and festivals, their gigs and practice sessions. But mostly I have witnessed how the creative passions of these musicians originate in their community and how they inspire their community.

Most of the older blues musicians were sons and daughters of Mississippi sharecroppers. Like their parents, they chopped and
picked cotton at a young age. These individuals made music in their churches, juke joints and cafes, at picnics, house parties and fish fries and in the fields where they worked. Music was a means to express the suffering and celebration in their lives. And for some gifted musicians, the blues became a livelihood and a way out of the cotton fields to a new life.

The blues is heart and soul. Blues is the people’s music and its impact is felt around the world. The blues can bring people together, yet it can be just as powerful when played or experienced alone. The blues is life, energy and feeling.

I didn’t know what to expect when I first traveled to Mississippi and Chicago. Many blues greats were gone before I started my journey; some have since passed. Yet every encounter enriched my life. I hope the photographs communicate the joy that this project has brought me.

--Margo Cooper


For further exploration of the blues, visit the Samuel & Ann Charters Archive of Blues and Vernacular African American Music in Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. The result of 50 years of research and collecting by the Charters, this archive contains thousands of recordings of all types.

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