The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, presently under construction in Indianola, Miss., recently received an $85,000 donation from Monsanto and its Delta and Pine Land unit.
Among those receiving the check was attorney Carver Randle, board member for the museum and longtime friend of King. “It's a very distinct honor and special pleasure, to receive this check on behalf of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. We certainly appreciate it, and we'll be thanking you for years to come.”
The project is the culmination of a community effort to recognize King's achievements. Connie Gibbons, executive director of the museum, explained, “He's probably the most widely-known figure in blues music in the world. He's an iconic symbol of American music worldwide. A lot of people through the years saw that he was a wonderful man and very humble. He cared deeply about the people of the Delta.
“The genesis of this project goes back about four years. Most people, in the Delta at least, are aware that B.B. King claims Indianola as his home.”
Initially, several citizens of Indianola intended to honor King for his accomplishments. The desire to honor expanded to the possibility of a museum — and not just a local attraction, but an official museum that would garner world interest.
A committee was organized, a corporation and board of directors was set up, and a contract was struck with King to build his official museum. “When the project started, it was ambitious in the minds of the people of Indianola. It grew even more ambitious as it evolved. It's going to wind up being built for a total cost of approximately $14.2 million,” said Gibbons.
The site chosen for King's museum has an oddly satisfying twist of fate supporting it. “There are some really unusual things about the project. We didn't know where to build the museum. B.B. King's management wanted to build it on the highway.”
The board chose to seek expert advice, bringing in architectural professionals from Auburn University and Mississippi State University. Both universities operated blind, with no collaboration or communication between them. Following an analysis of Indianola's physical layout, an ironic conclusion was reached: Despite absolutely no exchange of information, both universities independently chose the same site to build the museum.
They selected an original brick cotton gin, centrally located in Indianola, that King had once worked in as a young man. The site is reputed to be the last standing brick cotton gin in Mississippi.
In addition to the gin renovation, 17,000 square feet of new construction will be added, expanding the museum's total area to 20,000 square feet.
The B.B. King Museum will encompass far more than music, said Gibbons. “Part of our mission is to tell the story of the Delta and the story of agriculture in the Delta. There's going to be a focus on agriculture. B.B. King still has an interest in agriculture and still talks about the various seasons as they relate to cotton.”
Randle added, “It's about a way of life and a man who has come from the most abject circumstances of poverty to prominence in the world — and yet maintains his contact with the community and concern for the people.”
Randle believes the museum, scheduled to open Sept. 13, 2008, will attract international interest. “We want the world to come.”