Mississippi Blues Trail – From Mississippi to Notodden

The Notodden Blues Festival, founded in 1988, has hosted dozens of artists from Mississippi, including B. B. King, Otis Rush, Bo Diddley, Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton, Bobby Rush, Charlie Musselwhite, and Super Chikan. In 1996 Notodden and Clarksdale, Mississippi, became sister cities, and cultural exchanges have included performances by Norwegian artists at Clarksdale’s annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival.

Norway is both geographically and culturally distant from Mississippi, but as the popular Notodden Blues Festival demonstrates, there seem to be no boundaries for the appreciation of the blues. African American entertainers were performing in Norway by the end of the nineteenth century, and blues was featured on traveling vaudeville shows and musical revues such as “Plantation Days” and “Chocolate Kiddies” that toured Scandinavia in the 1920s. The Mississippi-based Utica Jubilee Singers appeared in Norway in 1930, and in 1937 the swing band of Mississippi native Jimmie Lunceford, which included blues in its repertoire, began its first European tour with two performances in Oslo. The first American solo blues artist to appear in Norway was Josh White, who visited Oslo in 1950, and during the latter 1950s blues vocalists Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing and Big Joe Turner (with pianist Pete Johnson) all appeared on jazz shows.

Mississippi-born blues artists Magic Sam, Mac Thompson, Carey Bell, and Earl Hooker arrived in Norway with the 1969 American Folk Blues Festival [AFBF] tour, which stopped in Oslo. Later that year Mississippians Willie Dixon and Sunnyland Slim visited Oslo with the Chicago Blues Allstars, while Big Joe Williams appeared with the 1972 AFBF. The Molde Jazz Festival booked blues artists regularly from the late ’60s to the late ’80s, including Mississippians Furry Lewis, B. B. King, Otis Rush, Son Thomas, and Muddy Waters, whose 1977 appearance marked his only visit to Norway. Also of importance was Oslo’s Club 7, a countercultural venue where B. B. King made his first visit to Norway in 1972. In 1977 the Oslo Bluesklubb was formed to host Otis Rush and to help arrange tours together with clubs across Sweden and Norway. Blues also gained a foothold in Norway via Harald Are Lund’s NRK blues radio show and the music of Arild Wickstrøm’s band and Public Enemies, both house bands at the Club 7, “Hungry John” of the Bergen Blues Band, Knut Reiersrud, and Kristin Berglund.

Appreciation of the blues in Notodden was aided by a number of factors, including sailors who brought records back from their travels, local musicians including Kare Virud and the Notodden Blues Band, as well as the Notodden Jazzklubb, formed in the early ’70s. The Notodden Blues Festival was founded in 1988 after thirteen blues fans took out a loan from a local bank, and it soon became a major destination for blues enthusiasts. Mississippi blues artists who have performed at the festival include Little Milton, R. L. Burnside, Denise LaSalle, John Primer, Lonnie Pitchford, Robert Belfour, T-Model Ford, L. C. Ulmer, Cedric Burnside, and, from the Clarksdale area, Ike Turner, Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr, and James “Super Chikan” Johnson.