The Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame has been a part of the metro Jackson community for 20 years. Currently located at the Iron Horse Grill, with a museum location in Hazlehurst, the hall of fame is constantly looking to spread the word about Mississippi as the birthplace of America’s music. Sun Staff Writer Megan Phillips spoke with Executive Director Peggy Brown about the Iron Horse location and what the organization has to offer. Brown currently resides in Ridgeland and runs a decluttering business in Madison County.
How and when was the hall of fame founded?
“Dr. James Brewer founded the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame more than 20 years ago. He used to teach music at (Mississippi College) and is quite the historian. He realized that Mississippi’s contribution to the world’s music was huge, and he just kept running across people that he thought needed to be celebrated and honored…”
How many people are on the board?
“We now have seven.”
How did you get involved?
“I actually got involved with Dr. Brewer about 10 years ago. I was a consultant at the time, and he was putting on the big Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame induction ceremony over in Vicksburg, which was huge. It was like a three-day event… The person that was helping him backed out five weeks before the event… So, he called me up, and I started working with him ASAP… After that, I kept working with him… Then about a year and a half ago, I became the executive director.”
How did your new position as executive director come to fruition?
“I was on the board before that, and the executive director that we had went on to do some other things. So, the board then elected me to be the director.”
What is its main feature within the hall of fame?
“We highlight the slogan, ‘Mississippi: Birthplace of America’s Music.’ That is our trademark slogan. Dr. Brewer created that and brought it to the state, and the state leases the slogan from us. It’s on the state welcome signs, it’s on the car tag, it’s in their publications. So, that is what we highlight in the little museum that’s in Hazlehurst and in the hall of fame that’s upstairs at Iron Horse. It is to explain why we can make that claim.”
Why can Mississippians make that claim?
“When Dr. Brewer first brought that up, (many people said), ‘That’s quite an audacious statement for you to make,’ and (Dr. Brewer) said, ‘I can prove it to you…’ Of course, we can say that blues started all over the state… Country music is documented to have started in Meridian with Jimmie Rodgers, and nobody really disputes that. You get to rock-n-roll, and most people think that Elvis (Presley) started that. Memphis claims Elvis, but they can’t (really) claim him, because he was born in Mississippi… If you look at all of that… literally, honestly, we can make the claim about the birthplace of America’s music…”
How many visitors does the hall of fame have each year?
“The estimate for attendance at the Mississippi Music Museum in Hazlehurst is around 5,000 annually. The estimate for the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame at the Iron Horse is around 100,000 annually.”
At one point, the hall of fame was located at the Jackson airport. Why did it move?
“When it was installed there at the airport, it was several years before 9/11. It was a big exhibit in the restaurant out there, and it was a place that you could take your kids to go sit and eat and look at the airplanes…
“When things so drastically changed at 9/11, they had to install all the security stuff. So, the airport put the security stuff after the restaurant… At that point, most travelers did not want to dillydally out there. They wanted to go ahead and get through security. It completely impacted how many people sat in the restaurant… It was just, the time was over, and they were going to remodel, and we weren’t to be included.”
What made you choose the Iron Horse Grill as the next location?
“Joseph Simpson, who owns the Iron Horse, reached out to us about a partnership, because he loves Mississippi music, and he wanted to do something to promote it. So, we got into agreement talks about having an exhibit upstairs… We were up there right after it opened (2014).”
Does the board plan to keep the hall of fame in the Jackson area at the Iron Horse?
“We have been in serious discussions with several entities about partnering with them to open up a Jackson brick and mortar location. So, the board is in discussion with two entities, and one is a serious one. We wouldn’t make it as a standalone hall of fame, so we need to be connected to something that’s bigger than us or that partners with us to drive people to come. Most hall of fames in the United States are not self-funded. They have to have federal help, local help, government help, grant help… We would have plenty of memorabilia, a lot of stuff to focus on, but it strictly is the funding to keep a place like that open and have people that manage it and so forth.”
Why are you and others thinking of creating a new location?
“Dr. Brewer has always wanted the places to be free, not to charge. He doesn’t charge in Hazlehurst… We would need to do that, but we need to have a Jackson location that’s bigger than the exhibit upstairs at the Iron Horse, and the exhibit at the Iron Horse could then drive people to our other location. That would be the purpose.”
If a new location were to come to Jackson, when might it open?
“I’d say, 2021.”
How often is the hall of fame updated?
“The one at the Iron Horse has been updated I think a couple of times by (Simpson). His mother-in-law does the wax figures that are up there, and I think they added one a year and a half ago…”
Does the hall of fame have a budget?
“Our budget is around $18,000.”
What’s the main source of budget funds?
“Dr. Brewer has things that he sells. We are funded by donations. We’re also funded by the lease money we get from the slogan from the state of Mississippi. A lot of nonprofits are struggling right now. We are trying find people interested in the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, because we need corporate sponsors and donors.”
What does the majority of the budget fund for the hall of fame?
“Besides just a few managerial expenses, I’m the only paid person. There’s one thing expense-wise that we have done, and that’s our induction ceremony, and we did that in September of last year at River Hills. We inducted a class of seven people into the Hall of Fame… The last one we had before that was in 2015, and it was at the Iron Horse, and it was a huge gala, and we plan to do one next year in 2019, which would then feature the 2018 and 2019 inductees. So, we pretty much have to do it every other year, because it’s a big deal expense wise.”
Tell me about Mississippi Musicians Day.
“Rep. Rita Martinson retired from Madison. Right before her retirement came to be, she partnered with a musician advocate named Kobe Singleton. Kobe had the idea that there needed to be an official Mississippi Musicians Day. Rita loved the concept, and she pushed that through the legislature. Gov. (Phil) Bryant in 2015 officially decreed March 17 every year to be Mississippi Musicians Day. So, we just celebrated that… at the Iron Horse. It was a small deal, but next year, it will be that big celebration, and we will then include the induction ceremony into Mississippi Musicians Day. The entity Mississippi Musicians Day partnered with us, the hall of fame, so we sponsor Mississippi Musicians Day…”
Does the hall of fame have any kind of educational component?
“We do music in (schools)… I go and talk to the kids about why we can say Mississippi is the birthplace of America’s music, and I take a musician with me. Generally speaking, it’s a blues musician, only because blues is the biggest genre, the guy can go with his guitar, and he can make a blues song for the kids. They make it up together and sing it together. The whole point is to talk to them about Mississippi being the birthplace of America’s music… And that’s what I get to tell children. Usually they’re in elementary school, and I hold up my sign. It says, ‘Mississippi: Birthplace of America’s music’… We have an educational online (program) that teaches kids from fourth through ninth grade. You can download it. It’s a music education program, and it’s free, and it’s on our Web site. Teachers can use that to teach Mississippi music.”
What’s the best number to contact to get in touch about the hall of fame and upcoming events?
“Visit www.msmusic.org or our Facebook page Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, or call me at 601-613-7377.”