After travelling to Clarksdale, Miss. – a part of the Mississippi Delta region romantically referred to as “the land where the blues were born” – broadcast journalist Erickson S. Blakney ’87 returned to New York City, where he met with author Richard Maloof ’88 and the idea to co-produce a documentary was born.
“We knocked around several story ideas about the blues, among them, their significance as a true American art form created by African Americans, the legacy of the true blues and their role as a cornerstore of American music, and how and if the torch was being passed to the next generation of musicians,” Blackney explains in a recent article in DeSoto Magazine.
Blakney and Maloof then teamed up with Lucky Find Productions, a company founded by former HWS English Professor Lee Quinby, and Michael Scanlan ’86 was quickly recruited to the project to serve as its photographer. In August 2010, the crew returned to Clarksdale, where they began filming for the documentary to be called, “True Delta.”
Telling the story of the Mississippi Delta Blues, the documentary celebrates three generations of music makers by following the blues saga and how, as the original blues generation passes away, today’s Delta musicians try to keep their legacy and the blues alive by passing it on to a younger generation.
“We decided to launch the film project during the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, referred to as ‘the purest blues festival,’ because of its goal to feature Mississippi musicians,” explains Blakney in the DeSoto Magazine article. “We rolled into town…[and] what followed was a whirlwind of filming, interviewing, jawboning, cajoling, networking and darting to, what felt like, all points in and around the Delta.”
Blakney believes that his team’s work is very important, as they are documenting what is left of an evolving tradition.
“‘The torch will be passed but it will be a different torch,'” explains Professor Luther Brown, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at State University. “A blues man in his eighties grew up in a world that was dominated by cotton and mules and Jim Crow, bringing a very different set of experiences to their music than you will have in a young person today.'”
A book, “True Delta,” on the same topic is currently in development and is expected to be released this year.
Blakney is an award-winning broadcast journalist based in New York City, where he presently works as a writer, editor and reporter for CBS News Radio. Previously, he worked as an anchor and reporter in the radio and television divisions of Bloomberg News for 14 years. A member of the International Documentary Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Blakney has also written for magazines and several daily newspapers including the Boston Globe, Clarion-Ledger, Dossier Journal and Delta Bohemian. Blakney serves on the board of trustees of the DreamYard Project, one of the largest arts education providers in the Bronx offering programs in-school, after-school and during the summer. Blakney received his B.A. in English from Hobart in 1987. Blakney later attended the Winterthur Institute and the City University of New York in the Heights.
Maloof is an award-winning writer and the author of a dozen titles, including “This Will Kill You,” co-authored with HP Newquist, and “Rock & Roll…And The Beat Goes On.” Formerly the Editor In Chief of Guitar magazine, he continues to serve as a curator for the National Guitar Museum. In addition to producing instructional books, periodicals, blogs, and videos for musicians, he has also written for MSN, CNN, MSNBC, TimeOut, Yahoo! and Billboard, among other outlets. Maloof received his B.A. in English from Hobart in 1988.
Quinby, a distinguished lecturer at Macaulay Honors College, CUNY, is the founder of Lucky Find Productions. The author and editor of a multitude of books, she has had her articles published in various journals, including American Historical Review, Constellations, ESQ, and SIGNS. In 2010, she directed and co-produced a short documentary, “Facing the Waves,” which was about a former gang member turned surfer/entrepreneur. The film was an official selection at Mountainfilm Festival 2010 in Telluride, Colo. Quinby worked at Hobart and William Smith Colleges for more than 20 years, serving as the Donald R. Harter Chair in the Humanities Professor.
Scanlan is a photographer based in New York and New Jersey. In addition to appearing in the Newark Star Ledger, his work has appeared in numerous non-profit publications, with clients such as St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, YWCA and the South Orange Performing Arts Center. Although primarily self-taught, he attended Hobart before going on to study at the School of Visual Arts in New York and the Maine Photographic Workshops. After a 10-year career with MBNA America Bank, Scanlan joined St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, where he serves as assistant headmaster.