5 years ago I received an email inviting me to be a musical director for the Natchez Festival of Music for their educational outreach program. Growing up in North Carolina and having lived almost half my life in New York City I had never heard of the town or the festival before except through a couple of fellow musicians who had also worked there. When asking people to describe the place I always encountered a loss for an adequate description but invariably the promise, “you’ll have fun in Natchez.” Being there for the first time was an experience I will never forget. The hospitality was overwhelming; people gave of their homes for the guest artists to stay, treated us to elaborate meals, threw parties for us and generally treated us like family. Living there for two weeks in the oldest town on the Mississippi, where so many of the historic structures and buildings were immaculately preserved and the residents are so conscious of their history was like looking through a window into a bygone era. To be sure, every restored home, every plantation, every park, trail, creek or lake has it’s story and they range from beautiful and nostalgic to the uniquely bizarre to the supremely tragic! Being a part of the outreach program meant that I got to tour the area and perform as far away as Port Gibson in some instances, giving me a taste of the mystic beauty of the surrounding region as well. But the most unique and fascinating part of Natchez is certainly its people. Many are transplants from all over the country and beyond but some of the more prominent citizens have lived in the area for numerous generations proudly calling themselves true Natchezians.
Many are extraordinarily educated and have made vast contributions to countless fields far outside of Mississippi. Each one has a their own singular voice and story to tell as if they just stepped out of a provocative novel. As I have been back every April and May since then, every trip has seen new experiences with new discoveries, and the friendships and memories I have cultivated there are among my most treasured. This video was shot this past summer while I was there for the festival of music and features the music of William Grant Still who was born in Woodville, MS just 20 minutes away. Each location in the film holds special memories for me. I can’t really tell you more than this; I can only invite you to visit the area sometime and create your own.