Blues archive displays rare items

Music lovers and researchers will be more than thrilled to visit Archives and Special Collections 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 rpm record of Elmore James’ hit ‘Sho Nuff I Do,’ and an autographed photograph of W.C. Handy,” 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 artist William Beckwith’s  bust of B.B. King 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.

Some other items displayed include an original 78 rpm record of Robert Johnson’s song “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” and a metal stamper used to produce James’ 1951 hit “Dust My Broom.”

“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 heard.”

This noncirculating collection is free and open to the public 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, except for university holidays.

The materials are displayed in the place of William Faulkner’s 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature and the 1951 Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur, which were returned in March at the request of the author’s descendants. The two medals, which had been on loan to UM for decades, and their certificates were auctioned at Sotheby’s June 11.