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Episode Nine

Artists and Craftsmen of the Great River Road – King Biscuit Blues Festival

Munnie Jordan, Executive Director of the King Biscuit Blues Festival, talks about the origins of this authentic Blues festival and what it was like growing up in the Mississippi River delta.

Read the Podcast Transcript

Interviewer:  Tell me, what is the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena? I grew up in the 80’s and I remember listening to the King Biscuit Flower Hour and it was a blues driven show.  Who is King Biscuit and why is there a King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena?

Munnie:   Ok.  King Biscuit Time radio is the oldest running blues radio program in our country. It started here in Helena, in 1941, and it has not missed one day of recording. Every day Monday through Friday. It got syndicated into the King Biscuit Flower Hour but it was KFSA was the radio station. And they had King Biscuit was (not anymore) was a flour F-L-O-U-R, that was sold here at Helena Wholesale along with Sunny Boy Meal. So that’s how King Biscuit got its name, that was the sponsor of King Biscuit Time and then Sonny Boy Meal, was what Sunny Boy Blues Society took their name from. And every day when you go listen to 1360 on your radio dial, and you tune into King Biscuit time it starts with pass the biscuits,  its King Biscuit Time.   So that in 1986 when Main Street Helena wanted to do a fundraiser, something to raise money, they said, why don’t we do a Blues Festival?  This is where Sunny Boy Williamson grew up. This is where Muddy Waters right across the river grew up. B.B. King and Indianola right down the road. Would come in to play King Biscuit Time all the time.  Let’s do a Blues Festival.  OK, what are we going to name it?  Why don’t we name it after the radio show?  And that’s how it’s got it’s name.

Interviewer:  What type of artist do you end up getting in for the festival Munnie?

Munnie:  We pride ourselves on being authentic Blues from the very beginning.  So that’s where it’s been since 1986. At times it been mostly regional blues artists and then we began to grow.  And we grown from the regional local Blues artists to having people like B.B. King, like Bonnie Raitte,  like Dr. John,  like Buddy Guy, all these famous people, as we had more money to do so. We tried desperately to keep it as authentic Blues.

Interviewer:  I see that Kenny Wayne Shepherd was one of the headliners last year.

Munnie:  Yes, exactly.  And he was fabulous.  Oh my gosh, he was so good.

Interviewer:  Obviously you have a love for the blues.

Munnie:  I have a love for this community is what I do.  Along with a love for the blues.   It’s a very small town. I lived here all my life, and is typical of little communities up and down the Mississippi River economically its not doing so well as of now.  So this is the biggest thing we have that we brings people into the community.   30,000 people. We only have 12,000 in the town.

Interviewer: Where is Helena?

Munnie:  Helena, Arkansas is on the west side of the Mississippi River between Clarksdale Mississippi and Memphis Tennessee.

Interviewer:  Tell me about your life on the Mississippi River Munnie.

Munnie:  My goodness, I can’t say enough good things. It’s taught me so many things.  Because growing up in Helena, life on the river. My parents are both from Clarksdale. They were very familiar with the Mississippi Delta. My grandparents lived in Clarksdale, so I would take the ferry. We would drive our car onto the ferry. By the way Mr. Jenkins, that was Conway Twitty’s daddy, was the man on the ferry that tied the ferry up with the big ropes.   So that’s what we did on Sunday afternoons as a young child.  And going to school here we have a good education. We marched up and down Cherry Street the band every Friday afternoon when there was a football game. It was safe, it was fun, and everybody enjoyed each other.  It was a delight.

Interviewer:  Tell me about where people can find out more information. So what’s your website?

Munnie:  It’s kingbiscuiltfestival.com

Interviewer:  How much are tickets Munnie?

Munnie:  The tickets are $90 for three day and $45 for one day. It’s always always, and forever will be, the weekend before Columbus Day in October.