Blues Archive Displays Never-Before-Seen Items through Summer

Ole Miss adds death certificate of blues legend Robert Johnson to library archive


A certified death certificate for blues legend Robert Johnson is on display at the University of Mississippi's J.D. Williams Library throughout the summer. Johnson's poorly documented life and death gave rise to the myth that he sold his soul to the devil. UM photo by Nathan Latil.

OXFORD, Miss. – The thrill is not gone. At least, it’s not at the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi, which houses one of the largest collections of blues recordings, publications and memorabilia in the world, including B.B. King’s personal record collection.Music lovers and researchers will be more than thrilled to visit the archive this summer, if only to see an authenticated death certificate of blues legend Robert Johnson, whose poorly documented life and death gave rise to the myth that he sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in exchange for success.

“We have acquired a variety of new media related to blues that will be on display with our current items throughout the summer, including an original 45 of Elmore James’ hit ‘Sho Nuff I Do,'” said Greg Johnson, blues curator and associate professor.

Many items, including some never-before-seen memorabilia, will be on display at the Blues Archive, on the third floor of the J.D. Williams Library, including a bronze bust of the “King of the Blues” and James “Son” Thomas’ sculpture of Delta blues guitarist and singer Sam Chatmon. Thomas, a Delta blues singer, also was known as a folk artist for his sculptures made from unfired clay that he dug out of the banks of the Yazoo River.

A metal stamper used to produce James’ 1951 hit “Dust My Broom” is also among the artifacts. There is controversy as to whether or not Robert Johnson or James wrote “Dust My Broom,” which was recorded in Jackson for the Trumpet Records label.

“This is just a fraction of what is available at the archive,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of rare collections to be seen. And, we have many, many recordings, if not original 45s and 78s, to be heard.”

This non-circulating collection is free and open to the public 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.

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