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Ole Miss Archive Preserves The Blues

Music fans around the world have marked Aug. 16 as a day of mourning. No doubt most think back to 1977 when Elvis Presley sang his last tune. But a few will have 1938 on their minds. That’s when a different American music pioneer died just outside Greenwood. Robert Leroy Johnson was a bluesman who had little commercial success during his lifetime, but his recordings still affect music that’s made today.

“We have his death certificate,” said Greg Johnson (no relation), curator of the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi’s J.D. Williams Library. “It’s a certified copy. The original is on file in Leflore County.”

By itself, Robert Johnson’s certificate makes official the tragic death of a 27-year-old man. But as part of the Blues Archive, it helps document Mississippi’s native music that grew out of slave spirituals and work songs and became the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll.

“It’s the history and culture of the state of Mississippi and the surrounding states. We save history before it is lost. We preserve it and make it available,” said Jennifer Ford, head of Ole Miss’ Department of Archives and Special Collections. “Most important is to make it accessible, to make it available to our patrons.”

Those materials are available to anybody who wants to sample them.

Read more at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.