What's So Enchanting About Mississippi?
Mississippi. It's a great word to spell! But the allure is far more than spelling. As a former resident, I know from the inside why so many outsiders are wooed by the State and would even argue, that it's more than a State. It's a state of mind. Mississippi continues to romance since it was the 20th state admitted to the Union in 1817. There are a lot of little known and great facts about Mississippi, but two main factors set the groundwork for a lasting impression.
The Mighty Mississippi River
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. Each time you say it, a second passes. And each time you say it, the Mississippi River keeps rolling into the Gulf of Mexico. I was born and raised in Mississippi and as an adult, I raised my children not far from the Mississippi River. My daughter and I would sometimes try to make it to the Mississippi River Bridge in Vicksburg at the end of a day so that we could catch the sun setting. The sunsets were like any other, but something about the Mississippi River added a magic that just couldn't be found anywhere else on earth. The Mississippi is a river that demands respect while also appealing to the poetic mind and imagination of almost anyone who sees it. It is clearly untamable yet it draws you in.
No one knows the river like Eddy Harris does. He navigated the length of the river in a canoe (see video below) which is 11 miles at its widest point. He points out that you "can't step in the same river twice," and that's certainly true of the ever changing Mississippi. It sometimes sleepily, though often mightily rolls through ten U.S. states. Though it's not the longest river in the U.S. (second to the Missouri), it is the most poetic. It is widely written about in both fiction and non-fiction.
The Mississippi River isn't going anywhere but down to the sea. The Missouri edged it out for the longest river in the U.S., but it is the fourth longest river in the world and 7,000 rivers feed into it. The Mississippi River collects water which drains from 31 different states and 2 Canadian provinces. Translated, the river basin covers about 41% of the entire U.S. The speed of the river at it's headwaters (in Minnesota, not Mississippi) is about 1.2 miles per hour but when it reaches New Orleans, the speed is 3 miles per hour. The Mississippi is why New Orleans will always be at risk for flooding.
The Mississippi River deserves to be called "mighty" and it deserves the name Mississippi which means "Father of Waters." Moreover, it deserves our respect. It's a dangerous river. As Cape Girardeau, Missouri Fire Captain John Ryan stated in a news interview, “You have undertows, you have currents, and then you have debris in the river, which you really have to worry about." After dropping a mannequin in the river to demonstrate, he added, "In two minutes, the mannequin was a quarter mile downstream in the current.”
Irrespective of floods, hundreds if not thousands have died in Mississippi River. Pay it homage but also pay it thanks. It is viable source of irrigation, cargo-carrying barges, and a great second hand clock. One Mississippi, Two Mississippi …
The Delta Blues
You can't define the blues as hard as you might try. You just have to hear them to understand them. They'll make you howl! The Delta Blues are one of the earliest styles of the blues and they originated in Mississippi.
To hear the Mississippi Delta Blues and the Memphis Blues is like hearing two different genres. The Delta Blues are a variant of country blues and guitar and harmonica are the predominant instruments. To add a slide guitar is stylistic but not characteristic. You can read more about the varying genres below (see link).
It can be said that Mississippi is no stranger to the blues, but more accurately, Mississippi is the home of the blues. In large part, that's because no one person can claim they discovered or created the blues. They just started appearing in the early 1900's, as early as 1903 in Tutwiler, Mississippi where W. C. Handy claimed they were revealed to him in a train station by a vagrant guitarist.
If you haven't really taken the time to listen to the blues, I encourage you begin with the Delta Blues. Then compare it with other blues genres. It is notably different and while all blues appeal to all of us on different levels, the Delta Blues are uniquely primal. Just try not to howl!
Mississippi boasts the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale and the Mississippi Blues Trail which has placed interpretive markers at notable historical sites related to the Delta Blues (in and outside the State). The largest concentration of markers is of course, in the Mississippi Delta.
- Different Styles of the Blues
How to Tell What Type of Blues You are Listening To?
Well Known Songs, Books and Movies about Mississippi
My daughter and son-in-law introduced me to Spotify a couple of years ago. One of the first things I did was create a Mississippi song list which I named …
wait for it ….
While I knew there had been many songs written about Mississippi and referencing the State of Mississippi, I shocked myself when the playlist ended with over 300 songs in almost every genre and describing every era of American History. Clearly, the world is enchanted with Mississippi. It's hard to pick a favorite, but Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" is a must for any playlist. And almost forgotten now, the Pussycat's tune entitled "Mississippi" is an absolute classic.
Music, books, literature - Mississippi is in them all and an apparent force to be reckoned with. Among famous fiction and non-fiction you will find:
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- The Bear by William Faulkner
- Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
- River of Dark Dreams by Walter Johnson
- Old Man River by Paul Schneider
- Swift Rivers by Cornelia Meigs
There are movies set everywhere including Mississippi, but some movies are so inherent to their setting that the setting can't be ignored. Movies like A Time to Kill, Mississippi Burning, and The Help. Mississippi through it's movie history, has illuminated social injustices and consequently, helped change history.
So is it the Delta Blues, the Mighty Mississippi, or what the rest of the world has done to ensure the continuity of great literature? Amid the azaleas and dogwoods, lumbering magnolias (the State Tree), courageous men and women changing the course of history instead of rivers, it may be hard to pinpoint exactly where the lure of Mississippi begins. But it's fairly safe to say the lure will always be there.
A Poem: Mississip' by Vicki Carroll
The land of Dixie is beckoningwith orchard blooms and old mill streams.My heart knows not a reckoning,Of life beyond my Deep South dreams.Plantations spread for mural miles,Of cotton whites and greens,The river's mouth upon me smilesAs she rolls her steamboat queens.Ol' Dixieland now beckons me,Magnolia's bid me come;Mississip' is where I long to be,There's no place quite like home. by Vicki Parker 1988
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