Meridian Star

Columns

January 10, 2014

Elvis and Mississippi’s creative economy …

MERIDIAN — On January 8, Elvis Presley would have celebrated his 79th birthday. As each true Mississippian knows, Elvis died at age 42 – too soon. There is an age progression photo making the rounds of cyberspace showing our Elvis with silver hair, double chin, and in need of an eyelift. NO, this is not our Elvis. We prefer to remember the “King of Rock and Roll” by his crooked smile and twinkling eyes, with guitar slung over his shoulder.

    But was Elvis more than the “King of Rock and Roll?” Could he have been a 1950s version of Mississippi’s Creative Economy?

    It’s an exciting time in Mississippi. There is a fact we all know ... living in this state – Mississippi is the home of creativity, no doubt, and that fact has now been officially declared. “Mississippi’s creative economy is a direct source of economic growth and wealth, accounting for more than 60,000 jobs across the state.” Words of great encouragement spoken by Mississippi’s State Tourism Director, Malcolm White.

    Governor Phil Bryant proclaimed 2014 as the “Year of the Creative Economy: Mississippi Homecoming.” The entire year will feature events, some tried and true and others new, to highlight Mississippi’s longtime creative finesse. These artists and performers of all genres will literally come home to Mississippi and showcase their talents plus those who never left the state will join many festivities and events designed to celebrate Mississippi’s creativity.

    It was August 2011 when I was first introduced to the term “Mississippi’s Creative Economy.” I attended the first Mississippi Creative Economy Summit, with keynote speaker, Governor Haley Barbour, who on that day coined the phrase, “We can’t sit on our assets.”

    As I was seated in the Jackson Convention Center to witness that eventful partnering of the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi Arts Commission -- an event planned to capitalize on our great state’s cultural heritage, I remembered the skinny kid from Tupelo, who shocked the world with his shakes, rattles and rolls. Perhaps he didn’t know exactly what he was doing at the time – just loving his music, but he actually began a process of stirring a big pot that would one day be known as Mississippi’s Creative Economy.

    He wasn’t alone. It was the voices of the Mississippi Delta Blues that had made a tough life worth living for the folks who scraped together an existence on the muddy banks of Ole Man River. The music was influenced by African roots, field hollers, ballads, church music and rhythmic dance tunes called jump-ups. The music evolved as a field hand singer sang a line that someone with a guitar would answer.

    Also on that day in August 2011, as I sat in the Jackson Convention Center, I remembered -- the many voices of our culture, our rich heritage, the deep yearnings, and the soulful lyrics. Each rolled through my memory as old friends. I remembered Eudora Welty’s, Why I Live at The Post Office, Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie, Jimmie Rodger’s, Missing Mississippi, Richard Wright’s novel, Black Boy, Delta Blues musician, Robert Johnson, known as The Grandfather of Rock and Roll, and, of course, Elvis, The King of Rock and Roll.

    I returned to Meridian that day determined to take my place in Mississippi’s Creative Economy, perhaps a tiny place – however there would be room for me. I started my business, Life in the South Lane, a business totally devoted to Mississippi and creativity, which includes storytelling, Mississippi history and heritage, drama and playwriting, historic cemetery tours, two Mississippi history books, magazine and newspaper columns, plus several projects still simmering – nearly ready for takeoff.

    In this year of 2014, I remember a little boy surrounded by family, who lived in a shotgun house in Tupelo, built by his daddy, and who had a strong connection with his church family and the Good Book – a young boy with a dream, who would bring millions of dollars and tons of attention to his native state, I am convinced Elvis, a Son of Mississippi, totally understood Mississippi’s Creative Economy.

    Happy birthday, Elvis.

    Anne McKee is a writer and storyteller. Visit her website: www.annemckee.net

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