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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Killer Blues and Mt. Zion Memorial Fund

(L to R) Steven Salter, president of the Killer Blues Headstone Project (KBHP); DeWayne Moore, executive director of the Mt Zion Memorial Fund(MZMF); and Skip Henderson, founder of the MZMF.


The directors of two cemetery organizations, which have erected historical markers and headstones for blues musicians, came together on the morning of July 18, 2015 for a panel discussion at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi to kick off the 6th annual Oxford Blues Festival. Steve Salter answered a host of questions concerning, among other topics, 1) how the KBHP marked 51 unmarked graves of blues musicians since its incorporation in 2008, 2) the problems that explain why that number should be as high as 54, and 3) how the institutional origins of the KBHP inspired its broad range of fundraising efforts. Henderson talked about the endeavors of the MZMF to save rural, black cemeteries in Mississippi, which stemmed from its first headstone projects in the 1990s. Working strictly in Mississippi, the MZMF encountered a host of issues that were not too much of a problem in the more urban realm of the KBHP, such as non-existant plot maps and aggressive agricultural developers. In contrast, whereas the highest expense of KBHP projects was often installation fees in urban cemeteries, which sometimes cost more than the headstone itself, the MZMF rarely encountered exhorbitant cemetery fees, having often paid no fees whatsoever to place the markers of such blues musicians as Big Joe Williams in Crawford, Mississippi.