Bessie Smith Cultural Center of Chattanooga

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A Cast of Blues

December 19th, 2014 by bsccadmin

Blues music was born in Mississippi, came of age in Chicago, and went on to inspire generations of rock and rollers, ranging from the British invasion of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to contemporary groups, such as The Black Keys. As one of America’s contributions to the world of music, the blues took root in the fertile soil of the Mississippi Delta, a flood plain covering 7,000 square miles between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Early blues greats in the Delta pioneered the strong rhythmic style of music, accenting the raw emotions of the lyrics by squeezing chords out of a guitar with a bottleneck or metal slide.

A celebration of Mississippi’s rich musical heritage, The exhibition A Cast of Blues features 15 resin-cast masks of blues legends created by artist Sharon McConnell-Dickerson, as well as 15 color photographs of performers and of juke joints by acclaimed photographer Ken Murphy. Visitors to The Bessie Smith Cultural Center can experience the exhibition, A Cast of Blues, opening January 28, 2015.

A Cast of Blues artist Sharon McConnell-Dickerson has said, “a life cast is like a 3-D photograph to someone who is blind.” McConnell-Dickerson, who is visually impaired, continues, “It captures the flesh, muscle, bone, hair, and subtle expressions of emotion. I wanted to discover the faces behind the music I love, so I went to Mississippi to map out the visages of the real Delta blues men and women.”

Ken Murphy’s photographs are selected from the groundbreaking book Mississippi: State of Blues (published 2010 by Proteus/Ken Murphy Publishing). A longtime Mississippi resident, Murphy captures the essence of the blues through highly detailed, panoramic color pictures. The exhibition’s compilation of casts and photos create a compelling portrait of the men and women who defined—and continue to shape—the tradition of Mississippi blues.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Charlie Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, and scores of other bluesmen and women barnstormed across the Delta, playing plantations, juke joints, and levee camps scattered throughout the area. It was the next generation of Mississippi music artists led by Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf, who brought the Delta blues north to Chicago. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and other rock and rollers picked up on the Delta sound and introduced it to the world. The musicians who stayed behind in Mississippi kept the tradition alive, passing it from one generation to another. Since the 1990s, Delta blues music has undergone a revival, with the rediscovery of overlooked artists—R.L. Burnside, T Model Ford, and Bobby Rush—and the rise of contemporary blues acts like the North Mississippi Allstars and the Homemade Jamz Blues Band.

The exhibition is fully accessible to all visitors, featuring braille labels and educational materials, as well as a music playlist for gallery use and a closed-captioned film about the Cast of Blues project. In addition, visitors are encouraged to touch the resin-cast masks. Says McConnell-Dickerson, “As a sculptural and visual art experience, feeling the life-made casts of these individuals and their facial expressions transfers their experiences directly to our fingertips.” The exhibition is also accompanied by the 2008 documentary film, M for Mississippi: A Roadtrip through the Birthplace of the Blues

(94 minutes).

Organized and toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national part of Mid-America Arts Alliance, the exhibition was curated by Chuck Haddix, music historian, author, radio personality, and director of the Marr Sound Archives at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. ExhibitsUSA sends more than 25 exhibitions on tour to more than 100 small- and mid-sized communities every year. Based in Kansas City, Missouri, Mid-America is the oldest nonprofit regional arts organization in the United States. More information is available at and

Image -

Sharon McConnell-Dickerson

Bo Diddley cast

Resin, 9 x 7 1/4 x 7 inches

© Sharon McConnell-Dickerson

A Cast of Blues is presented with financial assistance from the City of Chattanooga.

Blood Rhythms, Strange Fruit

December 2nd, 2014 by bsccadmin
Blood Rhythms, Strange Fruit is the latest exhibition from artist Charlotte Riley-Webb that will be on display at the Bessie December 12, 2014 – February 28, 2015 in the museum galleries.
The exhibition will feature visual interpretations of Ntozake Shange’s Blood Currents, Blood Rhythms and Blues Stylin’, and various pieces from Nina Simone’s body of work. Poet Ntozake Shange and songstress Nina Simone have been among the most influential contributors to my artistic library for most of my creative life, and from whom I continue to draw inspiration.” said Charlotte. “When immersed in Shange’s Blood Currents, Blood Rhythms and Blues Stylin,’ I am captivated by the depth of artistry through which Ntozake interlaced life and history through contemporized metaphors.” Shange’s poem was the muse for twelve of the twenty-two paintings scheduled for the premiere of this traveling exhibition. The lyrics of Nina Simone’s work bears a unique and little known history worthy of much discussion. Her rendition of Strange Fruit is mirrored in Shange’s poem. Adding to the depth of the exhibition will be the contemporary voice of poet Tzynya Pinchback, who was selected because of her unique artistic style. The visual representations embodied in her poems compliment the totality of this project.

In part, Webb’s paintings are an interpretation of not only the words, but the relationships, accomplishments and resilience mirrored in her own life experiences. The resulting dialogue should prove to be thought provoking for all who choose to engage.

Chattanooga 175 Talk with Daryl Black

October 1st, 2014 by bsccadmin

Join Chattanooga History Center Executive Director Daryl Black on Wednesday, November 12th at 6:00 pm as we explore the many fascinating layers of Chattanooga’s dramatic and colorful history as part of the CHA 175 celebration. The talk is free and open to the public.

This talk is presented as a collaboration between the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Chattanooga History Center and City of Chattanooga.



Clyde Stubblefield Day at the Bessie and #CHA 175

October 1st, 2014 by bsccadmin

Celebrating Clyde Stubblefield and 175 years of Chattanooga with Clyde Sutbblefield Day at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center on Saturday November 8, 2014. The fun begins at 12:00 pm with Clyde Stubblefield presenting a pair of drumsticks to add to our permanent collection. Admission will be $1.75 that day for non-members and we will have fun activities celebrating “the Funky Drummer” and Chattanooga.

The Roots Project – Genealogy Workshop ft. Suzette Raney

October 1st, 2014 by bsccadmin
The Bessie Smith Cultural Center and the Chief John Ross Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution partnered to present our first genealogy workshop on September 20 inside the museum galleries. The Roots Project will be a series of workshops that focus on best practices in genealogy research. Our next workshop will be held on Tuesday, November 18th at 6:00 pm and will feature Suzette Raney from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Library history department. Raney will focus on the many tools available at the library for genealogy research.

The event is free and open to the public but we do ask that you register for the workshop at or 423-266-8658

Pictured from the September 20th workshop: From left, Vanessa Jackson, Reinza Jackson Woods, Cheryl Kyles, Barbara Allen and Teresa Rimer, regent of the Chief John Ross DAR Chapter.

Museum Hours

Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday, Noon to 4 p.m.
Sunday, Closed

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