STARKVILLE, Miss.—It may be his first time performing at Mississippi State University Libraries’ Templeton Ragtime and Jazz Festival, but Steve Cheseborough is no stranger to the blues.
“I am honored to bring the blues to this long-running celebration of other traditional music, and I am looking forward to meeting the serious ragtime fans and hearing the other performers,” said Cheseborough, a 1920s-30 blues aficionado based in Portland, Oregon. “I have never been to Starkville before, so I’m sure I’ll discover some interesting places and people there.”
Though he grew up in Rochester, New York, Cheseborough said he considers Mississippi his “spiritual home.” He first visited the Magnolia State to attend the Sunflower River Blues Festival in Clarksdale in the mid-1990s. While enrolled in the Southern Studies master’s program at the University of Mississippi in 1997, he landed a deal to write his now-acclaimed guidebook, “Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues,” to be released in its fourth edition later this year.
“I’m always delighted to go to Mississippi for any reason,” Cheseborough said. “I lived in Mississippi for about 10 years, writing, playing music and just soaking up the culture, including stays in Oxford, Greenwood and Clarksdale.”
While he grew up in a family where music was accessible, Cheseborough said his particular fascination with the blues was one he developed on his own. His favorite artists include Bo Carter, Ma Rainey, the Memphis Jug Band, Charley Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Furry Lewis.
“My mother was a dancer and dance teacher, and my uncle was a professor of musicology, so I grew up in a family where there was lots of music around. But my mom is into Latin music and my uncle strictly classical, so I found the blues on my own,” he said. “I study the old recordings and try to figure out what they are singing and playing.
Along with harmonica, tambourine and foot-stomp board, Cheseborough plays a shiny metal National Style N resophonic guitar and a beautiful cedar-and-myrtlewood 1900-style parlor guitar made recently by Maxwell Sipe, a Portland luthier.
“I’ll be bringing both my girls along with me,” he joked. “I certainly can’t choose a favorite between them.”
Cheseborough encourages individuals of all ages, including MSU students, to attend the Templeton Ragtime and Jazz Festival as it provides an entertaining and educational experience.
“It’ll be a great party with great live music at a reasonable price,” he said. “You’ll have a lot of fun and learn some things.”
At 10 a.m. Friday and 2:45 p.m. Saturday, Cheseborough will participate in group chats with other world-renowned musicians at Mitchell Memorial Library’s fourth-floor Charles H. Templeton Sr. Music Museum. Both talks will be moderated by internationally-renowned pianist and fifth-year festival artistic director Jeff Barnhart.
Cheseborough is scheduled to give solo talks in the Templeton Museum at 2:45 p.m. Friday and 1:30 p.m. Saturday. He also will join his fellow festival performers for Friday and Saturday evening concerts in the mainstage theater at McComas Hall.
A complete festival schedule and ticket purchasing information are available online at http://library.msstate.edu/festival. MSU students with current identification cards may attend free.
MSU is Mississippi's leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.