Members of the newly-formed Prairie Belt Blues Foundation pictured Tuesday at The Ritz in West Point are, from left, Milton Sundbeck, Rufus Ward, Beverly Norris, Becky Shirley, James Hahn and Richard Ramsey. Photo by: Courtesy photo
May 24, 2014 11:08:38 PM
A newly-formed blues foundation based in West Point will assume the reins of the annual blues festival held in that city every Labor Day weekend. The Prairie Belt Blues Foundation (PBBF) hits the ground running, organizing the 2014 festival set for Aug. 29.
Kenny Dill, president of the Howlin' Wolf Blues Society, along with that organization's active board members Judy and James Cook, Jack Forbus, Joe Garrison, Rose and Eddie Johnson, Robin McCormick, David McMillen, Johnnie and Walter Newell, Beverly Norris, Joy and Dr. Hal Posey and Richard Ramsey, have accepted a proposal from Milton Sundbeck of West Point. Submitted on behalf of the PBBF, the proposal transfers all functions of the festival this year and thereafter.
The Howlin' Wolf Blues Society was founded in 1995 by the late Dr. Joe K. Stephens, Albert "Mickey" Mattix and Leo McGee. The annual Howlin' Wolf Blues Festival, sponsored by the Howlin' Wolf Blues Society, began as an event that falls on the Friday night before West Point's Prairie Arts Festival, already established as a major tourist event.
Dill said, "A number of reasons could be listed for the transfer of the annual blues festival to the Prairie Belt Blues Foundation. First and foremost, the transfer would take advantage of the continued leadership of businessman Milton Sundbeck and the new Prairie Belt Blues Foundation, which has applied for 501(c)3 charitable tax status."
The transfer will infuse new leadership into the festival. Sundbeck has long been a major supporter of the event, noted Dill.
"The offer by Mr. Sundbeck and the Prairie Belt Blues Foundation seems to be the perfect time to hand over the function of conducting the blues festival to an organization that has the potential to make it bigger and better," he said.
The Howlin' Wolf Blues Society will remain active in pursuing some of its original goals, outside hosting the festival, Dill added.
Sundbeck, president of the PBBF, and the new foundation's board of directors -- James Hahn, Beverly Norris, Richard Ramsey, Becky Shirley and Rufus Ward -- welcome the opportunity to preserve and promote Mississippi's blues music tradition and honor influential musicians that came from the Magnolia State, and the Black Prairie Belt of east Mississippi, in particular.
"Mississippi is the birthplace of American music, and the Black Prairie Region produced some of the most famous, with artists such as Big Joe Williams, Booker T "Bukka" Washington White, Lucille Bogan, Willie King and West Point's own Chester Arthur Burnett, known as Howlin' Wolf," said Sundbeck. "The Prairie Arts Festival and blues music go together, and the PBBF looks forward to making the annual blues music festival greater than ever."
Sundbeck noted that West Point has already received visitors to Mississippi Blues Trail sites from 42 states and 23 countries.
"The formation of the PBBF is a great opportunity to honor the blues legends and to promote and better position West Point for growth and development," he said. "We are committed to bringing in some of the best entertainment this area has seen, and we have started with this year's festival."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.