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Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival
Genre Blues, R&B, gospel
Location(s) Clarksdale, Mississippi, U.S.
Years active1988–present
Founded byJim O'Neal and Dr. Patricia Johnson

The Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival is an annual music festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It is held the second weekend in August, lasting three days. [1] Created as the Sunflower Riverbank Blues Festival in 1988, the festival features veteran and homegrown performers, attracting blues enthusiast from all over the world. [2] [3] Headliners have included Otis Rush, Ike Turner, Little Milton, Bobby Bland, Bobby Rush, Koko Taylor, Denise LaSalle, Super Chikan, and Robert Plant. [4] [5]


The Sunflower Riverbank Blues Festival was funded by The Downtown Association of Clarksdale partnered with the Mississippi Delta Arts Council, WROX radio, Delta Blues Museum, Rooster Blues Records, City of Clarksdale, Cahoma County Chamber of Commerce, and Sunflower River Yacht Club. [4] The event was and organized by Living Blues co-founder Jim O'Neal and Dr. Patricia Johnson in 1988. [6] It took place on the banks of the Sunflower River and was filmed by Mississippi Educational Television (ETV). [7] Since then, the festival has been organized by the Sunflower River Blues Association, funded by the Mississippi Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. [8]

In 1991, the Early Wright Blues Heritage Award was established to honor Early Wright, "The Soul Man" of WROX radio who was Mississippi's first black radio disc jockey. [9]

In 1992, promoters Melville Tillis and Julius Guy held the Issaquena Gospel Festival. In 1993, the two festivals were merged into the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel festival. Tillis became co-chairman of the association. Guy died in 1993, and in 1994, the Julius Guy Gospel Heritage Award was created in his honor. [4]

For the first time in 2012, the festival sold V.I.P tickets, for headliners Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, generating funds for subsequent festivals. [4] Also in 2012, the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival was recognized with a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail. [4]


Year Headliners Notes
1988 James "Son" Thomas & Otis Rush [10] Inaugural event funded primarily by merchants in Clarksdale area and organized by Jim O'Neal and Dr. Patricia Johnson
1989 Bobby Rush & Big Jack Johnson Funded largely by individual donors. The Williams Brothers was the featured gospel act
1990 Various artists Performers included Big George Brock, Sam & Doris Carr, Johnnie Billington, and Patrick Murphy
1991 Otis Clay & Big Jack Johnson Performers included Sam & Doris Carr, Stone Gas Band, Clayton Love, and Wade Walton
1992 Katie Webster, Big Jack Johnson & The Jelly Roll Kings Performers included Pinetop Perkins, Snooky Pryor, and Lonnie Pitchford
1993 Booba Barnes & Junior Kimbrough First year for the Gospel Festival. Event included stars from the motion picture film Deep Blues
1994 Bobby Rush & The Williams Brothers Performers included Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis [11]
1995 Denise LaSalle, Charlie Musselwhite & Frank Frost Performers included Sam Carr, Lonnie Pitchford, Jack Owens, Bud Spires & The Jackson Southernaires
1996 Bobby Rush Performers included Lonnie Shields, Charlie Musselwhite, Robert "Bilbo" Walker, Willie Neal Johnson & The Gospel Keynotes
1997 Little Milton & Ike Turner [12] Performers included Big Jack Johnson, Clayton Love, Frank Frost & Sam Carr, Slim & the Supreme Angels & Delta Big Four
1998 Rufus Thomas, Lynn White & R.L. Burnside Performers included Big Jack Johnson, The Kinsey Report, Charlie Musselwhite, Lonnie Pitchford
1999 Otis Clay, Charlie Musselwhite, & Eddie Campbell Performers included Super Chikan, Frank Frost, Sam Carr, Othar Turner, Johnny & The Midniters
2000 Koko Taylor & Bobby Rush Performers included The JT Express with Arthniece Jones, the Stone Gas Man, "Tater" Foster Wiley, Blind Mississippi Morris
2001 The Pilgrim Jubilees Performers included James Williams and The Messengers, Yolanda Troupe-Williams
2002 Charlie Musselwhite and Bobby "Blue" Bland Tribute to Little Junior Parker. Performers included Big Jack Johnson, O.B. Buchana, The Jackson Southernaires
2003 Latimore, T-Model Ford, Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr A tribute to Othar Turner featured a documentary by filmmaker Scott Jennison with music by Othar Turner's granddaughter, Shardé Thomas
2004 Latimore, T-Model Ford, Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr Performers included Latimore, Super Chikan, T-Model Ford, Big Jack Johnson & the Oilers, Nelson Larkins & God's Possey of Chicago
2005 Charlie Musselwhite & Shirley Brown Performers included Robert Belfour, Big T & The Family, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Rev. Andrew Cheairs & The Songbirds
2006 North Mississippi Allstars, Latimore Performers included Super Chikan, Big George Brock, Wesley Jefferson, Jimbo Mathus
2007 Bobby Rush and Denise LaSalle Performers included Howlin' Madd Bill Perry, Rita Engedalen & Spoonful, Shardee Turner, Billy Rivers & The Angelic Voices of Faith
2008 Darrell McFadden & the Disciples Performers included Bill Howlin' Madd Perry, Cadillac John & Bill Abel, Arthniece "Gas Man" Jones, and Shemekia Copeland, Selvy Singers
2009 Bettye Lavette and Super Chikan Performers included George Horn and South of Memphis, James "Super Chikan" Johnson, T-Model Ford, Chapel Hill's Mens Chorus
2010 Johnny Rawls and Homemade Jamz Blues Band This year's festival was a tribute to Ike Turner & " Rocket 88"
2011 Dorothy Moore and Johnny Rawls Performers included David Brinston, Nathaniel Kimble, Super Chikan, Earnest "Guitar" Roy, Kenny Brown, Robert Belfour, Eddie Cusic
2012 Robert Plant with special guest Patty Griffin Performers included T-Model Ford, Eddie Cusic, Robert Belfor, Pat Thomas, Arthniece Jones, Charlie Musselwhite, Bobby Rush
2013 Bobby Rush and North Mississippi Allstars This year's festival was dedicated to the late Melville Tillis, owner of the Rivermount Lounge
2014 Various artists This year's festival was dedicated to the legacy of Big Jack Johnson
2015 William Bell and Rita Engedalen Performers included Leo "Bud" Welch, Sharde Turner, Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, Super Chikan, Terry "Big T" Williams & The Family Band
2016 Super Chikan and Lonnie Shields [13] Performers included Heavy Suga & the Sweet Tones, Josh "Razorblade" Stewart, Jimbo Mathus, Little Willie Farmer, Leo "Bud" Welch
2017 Charlie Musselwhite and O.B. Buchana Performers included Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, Lucious Spiller, Watermelon Slim, Rich "Daddy Rich" Crisman, The DBM Band and Ghalia Vaultier [14]


  1. ^ "Clarksdale Music Festivals". City of Clarksdale.
  2. ^ "Sunflower River Blues". Mississippi Blues Trail. Retrieved 2020-02-13.
  3. ^ Collins, Janelle (2015). Defining the Delta: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Lower Mississippi River Delta. University of Arkansas Press. p. 205. ISBN  978-1-55728-687-1.
  4. ^ a b c d e O'Neal, Jim (August 2017). "The Sunflower River Festival Blues & Gospel Festival @ 30". Living Blues: 8–19.
  5. ^ "All That Glitters … Robert Plant to Headline 25th Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival 2012 in Clarksdale". Delta Bohemian. March 5, 2012.
  6. ^ "Amazing Hometown Talent Booked for 31st Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival". Blues Festival Guide Magazine. August 9, 2018.
  7. ^ "Welcome to the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival". Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival.
  8. ^ Johnston, Ashley (June 1, 2016). "Hitting the High Notes: Sunflower River Blues Festival". Memphis magazine.
  9. ^ Citchens, Addie (August 11, 2019). "The Soul Man of Clarksdale, Not a Eulogy". Mississippi Folklife.
  10. ^ "Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival - 1988". Delta Blues Museum.
  11. ^ Komara, Edward; Lee, Peter (2004). The Blues Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 255. ISBN  978-1-135-95832-9.
  12. ^ "Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival - 1997". Delta Blues Museum.
  13. ^ "Sunflower River Blues and Gospel fest". The Clarion Ledger. August 11, 2016.
  14. ^ "CLARKSDALE: Sounds Around Town - Sunflower Blues Fest Week Edition!". August 7, 2017. Retrieved September 14, 2022.

External links