"But you Listen" (Mississippi Folk Life, 2017)
For a year and a half between 2014 and 2015, I lived and worked in Clarksdale, Mississippi—a town in the Mississippi Delta best known as the "Birthplace of the Blues." At the time I was a graduate student in the sociology doctoral program at the University of Mississippi, back in Mississippi to conduct fieldwork for my dissertation. The project focused broadly on black community life in the post-Civil Rights South. In Clarksdale, that meant talking a lot about the blues, which meant talking to a lot of black folks who said they didn't like the blues and sitting with blues singers and musicians who had only known the blues. One such person was Rosalind Wilcox, a native of Chicago who moved to Clarksdale in the early 2000's.
In this story, published to MississippiFolkLife in 2017, I profile Rosalind, including a simple, but powerful, dictum for how she does what she does (sing the blues and play a handful of instruments), and how we might do whatever it is that we aspire to do. "But, you listen."
Here's a selected excerpt:
"When Rosalind Wilcox plays, she usually wears black—a thick-brimmed hat of some variety, jeans, cowboy boots, all black—except for her lipstick, which is always a vibrant shade of red or pink. And, she keeps her sunglasses close, whether she is humming in the shadows of Red’s Lounge, playing percussion under the string lights of Ground Zero Blues Club, or clutching her guitar beneath the pale-pink evening sky on the Delta Blues Museum Stage.
Today, though, she wears a bright red blazer, a necklace of heavy turquoise stones, and a soft smile. We are sitting at a popular Mexican restaurant in Clarksdale, a town in the northern part of the Mississippi Delta best known for being the “birthplace of the blues.”
As we talk, her voice cuts sharply through the flat murmur of the restaurant’s evening crowd, revealing a story, and life, of funky contrasts.
“I lived [in Chicago] until I was 14, then bounced around a little—Iowa and then Kansas,”
She interrupts herself with a laugh, then continues.
“New Mexico, back to Iowa, back to Chicago, then Mississippi in 1996. Been in Mississippi ever since.”
On one hand, her move—she calls it a “return”—to Mississippi from Chicago is common. Rosalind is one of thousands of black Mississippians who, since 1965, have left segregated and deindustrializing cities in the Northeast and Midwest, cities like Chicago, and ventured (back) “home,” as it were. On the other hand, her twenty-plus years in Mississippi have followed a path and beat all their own—contrasts."