Blues & the Spirit Symposium will focus on race and gender


River Forest, IL – Dominican University will present the third biannual Blues & the Spirit Symposium on Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19. The symposium this year focuses on racial appropriation and gender representation in the blues and will include a singular performance by four of Chicago’s most renowned blues “divas.” In addition, the annual Blues and the Spirit Award will be presented to Marie Dixon, widow of blues legend Willie Dixon and president of the Blues Heaven Foundation.

The Blues & the Spirit Symposium was inaugurated in 2008 to explore the shared roots of blues and gospel music and their enduring impact on contemporary music and society. The symposium features distinguished scholars of African American music and culture as well as nationally known and locally revered blues and gospel performers.

The symposium will open Friday evening with a panel discussion on the current state of the blues genre featuring respected musicians and performers Sugar Blue, Billy Branch, Matthew Skoller, Deitra Farr and Sharon Lewis as well as recently retired deputy director of the Chicago Mayor’s Office of Special Events Barry Dolins. Following the panel discussion, participants will be transported by bus to the Harlem Avenue Lounge in Berwyn where they will have the special opportunity to see performing together for the first time four of Chicago’s most renowned blues divas, Deitra Farr, Peaches Staten, Nellie Travis and Sharon Lewis.

Zandria F. Robinson, the James and Madeleine McMullan Assistant Professor of Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, will deliver on Saturday morning the symposium’s opening keynote address, titled “Gotta Sing on the Beats They Bring Us: Gender, Class and 21st Century Blues Women’s Epistemology.” Her address will be followed by a panel discussion titled “Ladies Sing the Blues: The Lived Experience of Chicago’s Blues Divas” including Farr, Staten, Travis, Lewis and others.

A lunch panel will focus on Cultural Tourism and the Blues and will include Dolins, former director of the Chicago Blues Festival; Dorothy Coyle, executive director of the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture; Michael Orlove, former senior programs director of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs; and Scott Barretta, host of the Highway 61 Radio Show (Mississippi Public Radio), principal researcher for the Mississippi Blues Trail, and former editor of Living Blues magazine.

The afternoon will include a panel discussion on the intersection of blues and hip-hop featuring Ernest Gibson, the Thurgood Marshall Fellow in African and African American Studies at Dartmouth College; Stephanie Rose, assistant professor of Women’s and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; and Gil Cook, assistant professor of English at Dominican University. The panel discussion will be followed by a multimedia presentation titled “ Tracing the Legacy” by Stephanie Shonekan, assistant professor of ethnomusicology and Black studies at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

The closing keynote address will be delivered by Mark Anthony Neal, professor of Black popular culture in the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University. Following the address, participants will be transported by bus to an after-party at Rosa’s Lounge in Chicago where they will be treated to a special performance by blues legend Sugar Blue and friends.

Registration for the symposium is limited. The fee of $75 covers all events on the Dominican campus, meals and receptions, round-trip bus transportation Friday and Saturday evenings and club cover charges. A very limited number of dormitory-style rooms will be available on campus for those who register early. Per night room fees are $50 for singles, $90 for doubles, and $160 for suites up to four people.

For more information, consult the website at or contact or 708-524-6771.

Founded in 1901, Dominican University is a comprehensive, coeducational Catholic institution offering bachelor’s degrees through the Rosary College of Arts and Sciences and master’s degrees through the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, the Brennan School of Business, the School of Education, the Graduate School of Social Work, and the School of Professional and Continuing Studies. The university also offers a doctoral degree in library and information science. In the 2012 issue of America’s Best Colleges, U.S. News & World Report ranked Dominican University in the top 20 of Midwest master’s level universities. The magazine also ranked Dominican as one of three “Great Schools at a Great Price” in Illinois.