The National Blues Museum continues the march toward its late 2015 opening with the hiring of its first executive director, Dion Brown. Brown says the role carries an obligation to maintain the link between blues originators and contemporary music.
For him, the genre’s history is a history of all contemporary music. “You know it’s the birth of all [contemporary] music, and I’m a firm believer in that, from jazz to rock 'n' roll and what not,” said Brown. “To learn the history, it gives more insight into why we listen to the music we do.”
Brown brings to St. Louis knowledge of that history honed at his prior position as executive director of the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Miss. Brown said he will build national recognition for the St. Louis museum by developing exhibits in conjunction with such national institutions as the Smithsonian. He also intends to court an international audience of music aficionados by developing contacts with various global tour groups.
Brown said he wants St. Louis blues musicians and fans to have a home there as well. “You know I’m getting a little ahead of myself but I envision that the local community and local blues musicians play a major roll,” said Brown, “not only in the museum but in the outreach efforts.”
The museum director’s travel from Mississippi to St. Louis mirrors the blues’ trajectory as it spread north from the Mississippi Delta, where it was born. Brown’s interest in the position began more than three years ago, when he met National Blues Museum co-founder Dave Beardsley through the festival circuit. Their interaction piqued Brown’s interest in the developing National Blues Museum project.
Brown wasn’t always a music museum administrator. He transitioned into the field of museum operations after serving 20 years in the military. Brown started this career at Exploration Place, a science center in Wichita, Kan., and was mentored there by then Executive Director Al Meloni.
“He said ‘Hey, you can do this. You have a background in operations. I’m going to groom you to be an executive director',” said Brown.
Brown eventually was promoted to Exploration Places’ chief operations officer before moving to Mississippi, where he’s worked since 2011. Brown sees the transition as taking up the obligation of ensuring the genre’s future.
“With hip-hop and other genres of music, blues just doesn’t have the niche that it used to. So I just feel it’s important to, as we say, keep the blues alive,” he said.
Brown will work out of the museum’s new site at the former Dillard’s department store in downtown St. Louis, where construction continues.