April 12, 2010 Rotogram


District 6820’s inbound Group Study Exchange Team brings our program today. The team from Rotary District 2050 in northern Italy is in the midst of a day of touring area businesses and the university.
In town since Friday, the group includes Simona Gentilini, a pediatrician; Serena Giuliano, a biochemist and molecular biologist; Simone Stancari, an architectural engineer and ecological manager; and, Alessandro Copeta, a mechanical engineer and designer. Team leader is Rotarian Franco Docchio.


Invocation and Pledge: Dora Herring

Attendance: There were 104 members (36 exempt) present and 87 (14 exempt, 12 honorary) absent.

Guests and visitors: Visiting Rotarian Larkin Tucker, cousin of Allan Tucker, has not missed a Rotary meeting in 44 years. Member guests included Anna Spivey of Scott Dodd; John Guyton, son of Mark Guyton; and, Vaughn Simpson of Amy Tuck. John Robert Arnold hosted grandchildren Emma and Hunter Stelle Baehren, daughter Margaret Baehren, and sweetheart Mary Ann Arnold. Guests of the Club were Jones McPherson, son of the speaker, and Paul Sims of the Starkville Daily News.

Makeups: Frank Chiles at West Point, and Carey Hardin at West Point and Columbus, Ga.

Absolutely Nothing to do with Rotary Minute: Roy Ruby got a laugh even while dodging his weekly joke given its mature content whilst grandchildren were present.


Our oldest member, J.B. Vanlandingham, celebrated his 94th birthday on April 4. After President Martha led us in singing “Happy Birthday,” she said, “Now you see why our club doesn’t sing much.”


Carrying on the Arnold family’s musical tradition, John Robert’s grandson Hunter Stelle Baehren plays viola in the Toledo (Ohio) Youth Symphony. He gave us a sample of his talent with short renditions of “You Are My Sunshine” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The freshman is on his high school swim and debate teams. Last year he was one of 16 students who went to Tanzania to aid with strings instruction. The group heads to Vienna this year.


The hardscrabble side of Mississippi’s history is seen in the blues. Now, the state is embracing its roots music as an economic development tool.
A key leader in that effort is Bill McPherson, president of the B.B. King Museum Foundation and chair of the Mississippi Blues Commission.
The past-president of the Indianola Rotary Club took us through the evolution of one of the biggest components of the blues development, the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in his hometown.
What started as a short-term volunteer effort turned into a six-year, full-time job for the MSU alumnus (`81, accounting BS).
The museum idea was inspired when B.B. bought property in Indianola, intending to build a house with a shed in the backyard to display his Grammies.
When friends and community leaders approached the legendary musician about a museum, he could not understand why anyone would be interested. After folks explained its economic benefit and the fact that there could be educational and children’s programs, he okayed the idea.
McPherson partnered with Alan Hammons, a marketing manager from Greenwood. From working together on other projects, they knew the importance of “knowing what you don’t know and getting others to help.”
An early advisor, Economic Research Associates, told them not to waste three to five million dollars for a relatively small museum that would not generate much traffic. What they needed to do was to create a destination to make people want to come to the Delta.
That is how the B.B. King Museum turned into a $15 million project that drew visitors from all 50 states in its first three months. To date, the institution has seen visitors from 34 countries.
Even though B.B. told his personal friends that they could start a museum, Hammons and McPherson knew that Roy Lieberman, B.B.’s New York manager, wasn’t very happy about someone moving in on the B.B. King brand.
“He was not about to let small-town Mississippi mess with his brand,” said McPherson.
To generate momentum, not to mention money, the development group held a kickoff at Greenwood’s Alluvian Hotel. Hammons’ connections with Church’s Chicken and Coca Cola in Atlanta helped get Hank Aaron, a Coke spokesman, to fly in for the event.
The two cultural icons had never met and the Atlanta folks were concerned because Hank is a man of few words. McPherson was not worried because he knew that B.B. would talk his ears off. Interestingly, the tables were turned. Hank talked and B.B. was speechless.
McPherson said that is indicative of the man B.B. King. He does not realize that he is an icon. He is all about humility and self-improvement.
Hoping to get some money out of the event, McPherson said, “We kinda did, kinda didn’t.”
A couple of days later his dad became the first donor because he was so proud of the effort in economic development terms. McPherson said he never told him that they “blew through his money on soft costs in about six months.”
That contribution was most important because, as their fundraising advisor Doug Alexander of Atlanta said, “You can’t expect other people to give you money if you can’t get it from your hometown.”
Over the project’s life there were about 40 people on the team including scholars, writers, film producers, film and photo researchers, sound experts, and people looking for artifacts.
McPherson said the main step is to write the story. Then, not every picture, sound or artifact makes it into the museum. Items have to be chosen to fit the story.
Other key team members included:

  • Stephen Perkins, a Washington, D.C. architect from Mississippi, who had done the Alluvian and master plan for Disney Tokyo.
  • Intellectual property lawyer Ken Crouse who handles the Presley and Sinatra estates.
  • Gallagher and Associates, one of the nation’s top four museum designers out of Maryland. The company had designed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and some Smithsonian units. It also handled the $300 million conversion of the D-Day Museum to the World War II Museum.


Riley King, known to the world as “B.B.”, was born in Berclair near Itta Bena, moved to Kilmichael at two, and lived there until moving to Indianola at age 14.  His single mother and grandmother died before he was 12.
Admonished to be honest, to treat people fairly, and to be a good man, B.B. has never had a contract with any of his band members in his 60 years of performing.
In 1947, after an accident, misunderstanding and restitution with his employer, he headed to Memphis with his guitar. There he got a spot on WDIA doing Peptikon jingles live. That radio spot helped him promote his Beale Street club gigs. From there, Riley became known as Blues Boy and, finally, as B.B., traveling the famous Chitlin’ Circuit of black night clubs.
His international breakthrough came with his Fillmore West concert in San Francisco in the late `60s.
He told Bill McPherson, “I saw this crowd of white Jesus-looking kids and thought I was in the wrong place.”
From the standing ovation that greeted him, his following exploded from 90 percent black to 95 percent white.

Previous post:

Next post: