Ben Payton has
taken a fascinating odyssey back to his cultural roots. Born in the hill country town of Coila, Mississippi, he lived in Greenwood before moving with his family to Chicago as a teen. There he became intimate with the blues, performing with Bobby Rush and others. In the late 1960s, jazz pianist and early world music advocate Randy Weston recruited him for a residency in the west African kingdom of Morocco.
Returning to the States, he put music aside to raise his family in the 1970s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Payton took up the acoustic guitar once more and returned to Mississippi. He developed a deep interest in the history of blues and learned the pre-war Delta music of Robert Johnson, Charley Patton and Mississippi John Hurt. His debut recording, Diggin’ Up Old Country Blues (2009), is an album of original songs that Payton says, “build upon early Mississippi blues traditions.”
He was chosen to represent Mississippi at the 2011 American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series at the Library of Congress, with a performance at the Kennedy Center. Now living in Jackson, Payton teaches country blues at workshops around the country as well as at the Berklee College of Music, and is working on his second recording.