JACKSON – In the grand Rotunda of the Mississippi State Capitol earlier this month The Mississippi Arts+ Entertainment Experience unveiled the five newest members of its Hall of Fame.
Three musicians and two writers are among the museum’s new class of honorees and two of those once called Clarksdale home.
State dignitaries and political representatives were in attendance for the unveiling of the Hall of Fame members, which will bring the total of legendary art figures in the attraction to 33.
Accompanying the state leaders were Camryn Gray and Jaimonta McCurty, two of The MAX Success Program students.
The ornate Rotunda made the perfect setting for The MAX (as the museum is usually called) to announce its Hall of Fame Class of 2022. Beloved Jackson-based writer Eudora Welty, a current Hall of Fame member, recalled roller-skating through The Rotunda on the way between her home and the public library when she was a girl.
The Hall of Fame Class of 2022 is comprised of five deserving Mississippians: Sam Cooke, musician from Clarksdale; W.C. Handy, musician from Clarksdale; Marty Stuart, musician from Philadelphia; Alice Walker, writer from Jackson; and Ida B. Wells, writer from Holly Springs.
Sam Cooke was a trailblazing recording artist who helped shape the soul and pop scene with hits like “Cupid,” “Chain Gang,” and “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha.” Forging a link between soul and pop, Cooke had a diverse repertoire that attracted both black and white audiences.
Born in Clarksdale, Cooke grew up in Chicago as the son of a minister. In 1948, just out of high school, he joined the gospel group the Soul Stirrers, and six years later began to branch out into secular music.
Cooke released his first number-one single, “You Send Me,” in 1957 and continued to top the charts with hits like “Wonderful World,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Bring It on Home to Me,” and “A Change is Gonna Come” (released posthumously). He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Cooke died in 1964 and left behind a tremendous musical legacy.
W.C. Handy was an African American composer and a leader in popularizing blues music in the early 20th century.
Handy’s contributions in shaping what would be called the blues were influenced by the African American musical folk traditions that he experienced during his travels and performances. After years on the road, Handy settled in Clarksdale in 1902, where he immersed himself in the local variation of the blues.
After a move to Memphis, Handy wrote and published the first commercially successful blues song, “Memphis Blues,” in 1912 followed by “The St. Louis Blues” in 1914. He worked steadily in the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, promoting the blues, composing dozens of songs, and authoring an autobiography.
Often referred to as the “Father of the Blues,” his legacy lives on through Alabama’s annual W.C. Handy Music Festival. He is recognized in Clarksdale with a number of different markers, murals and sign posts and is featured regularly in exhibits at Clarksdale’s Delta Blues Museum
Marty Stuart is a Grammy Award-winning country music artist who got his start performing with Johnny Cash before launching his successful solo career. Stuart was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2021.
Alice Walker is a novelist, essayist, poet, and activist, most widely recognized for her novel, The Color Purple. Walker’s commitment to important causes, along with her talent as a gifted writer, has created a lasting legacy.
Ida B. Wells was a journalist, abolitionist, and feminist who served as a catalyst for the modern-day civil rights movement. She left behind a legacy of social and political heroism.
Other MAX Hall of Fame recipients with Clarksdale connections include:
• John Lee Hooker: Blues Singer-Songwriter-Guitarist, inducted 2020.
• William Eggleston: Photographer from Sumner, inducted 2018.
• Charley Pride: Country Musician from Sledge, inducted 2018.
• Morgan Freeman: Actor from Charleston, inducted 2017.
• Robert Johnson: Blues Musician, inducted 2017.
• Muddy Waters: Blues Musician, inducted 2017.
• Tennessee Williams: Playwright, inducted 2017.
The MAX began inducting Hall of Fame members in 2017, a year before the museum building opened on Front Street in historic downtown Meridian.
The five new members will join such stars as Welty, Elvis Presley, Oprah Winfrey, B.B. King, Sela Ward, and Jim Henson, as well as less publicized but no less accomplished creative geniuses such as Margaret Walker, William Eggleston, Richard Wright, and George Ohr.
The MAX, created by an act of the Legislature, honors a diverse mix of creative legends from across the state. Chances are that no matter where in Mississippi you’re from, at least one of the Hall of Fame honorees has ties to your area. The museum serves as a valuable resource for educators and gives special attention to engaging young people.
The formal induction ceremony for the new Hall of Fame members will take place at The MSU Riley Center in Meridian later this year. For details about that event as they become available, and for other information about The MAX, please visit the website at msarts.org.
The MAX The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience explores the state’s creative legacies in one immersive attraction, inspiring the next generation of artists.
Come discover the Mississippi roots of some of the world’s arts and entertainment icons.