/Agents told Steve Azar he was ‘too Mississippi’; turns out it’s his best asset

Agents told Steve Azar he was ‘too Mississippi’; turns out it’s his best asset

It was his grandfather’s Jigger and Jug business. It was the first state-licensed liquor store. Young Azar made friends with many of these people. Eugene Powell, also known as “Sonny Boy Nelson”, is one that Azar remembers clearly. After a hard day, the postmen would go to the back of the liquor shop to listen to Sonny Boy perform. I didn’t think about the reasons I felt so emotionally connected to the music when I was 11 years old. “I just was.” Azar quickly picked up a guitar and began to learn how to play it. At the age of 12, Azar began to write songs and would sneak out from his house with a guitar in his hand and then head to the nearest juke box, humming along. He found his salvation in the back alley blues clubs. Although Azar was exposed to blues music at an early age, he never would have imagined that he would be a recipient for the Governor’s Arts Award. He was named the 2018 Governor’s Choice of the Mississippi Arts Commission. Azar, who was nicknamed “The Delta Man” among his friends and colleagues, didn’t reach the same musical success in Nashville. Mercury Nashville signed Azar in 2002 due to his persistence and a little luck. As he recorded “I Don’t Have to Be Me ‘Til Monday”, one of the most popular songs on country radio in the last decade, his Delta roots were reflected in Waitin’ On Joe and I Don’t Need To Be Me Til Monday.” He then joined the Nashville bandwagon and toured with Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, and Rascal Flatts. Azar stated, “I have always written songs that were triggered by pain that had silver-linings.” “I learned this from the old guys that I grew up hearing.” Azar stated that he hears the Delta and feels the unique pastoral spirit running through his lyrics every single time he steps on stage. Although his agents said he was too Mississippian, Azar felt that he owed everything and more to the Delta for the way it created him. He returned to Greenville twenty years later because of his roots. Azar stated that he realized the importance of arts exposure for children upon his return to Greenville. Gwen Azar, his wife and the Steve Azar St. Cecilia Foundation founder, helps children in need, mostly in the Delta. They also help to nurture and support the art and music movements for children. Since its inception, the organization has distributed over $700,000. Azar hosts the Mighty Mississippi Music Festival and Delta Soul Celebrity Golf and Charity Event in Greenville each fall and summer to raise funds. Wesley Smith, executive director of the Greenville-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, nominated his friend for the Governor’s Arts Award not only because of his musical accomplishments but also for his philanthropic endeavors in the Mississippi Delta. Smith stated that Steve sees opportunities that correspond with what he loves to do. He remained true to his roots when he wrote his songs. He has always had the Delta region in his heart. That spoke volumes about the award.” Tourism-wise, Azar’s festivals and charity events are driving the pulse of the Delta at an even higher level. People might not have seen the Mississippi region before Azar’s events. Azar stated that more than 20 countries and states were represented at the festival in September. He and others are looking for “up-and-coming” acts to host the 2018 festival. Smith described the Mighty Mississippi Music Festival “the most welcoming festival in the world.” Azar stated that Steve was responsible for a lot of this. His children also benefited from his return to Greenville twenty years after their roller coaster ride in Nashville. At the time they were 13 and 10, and now they are aspiring to be doctors, visual artists, and chefs. He said that all of the children ended up in the Delta. “No matter how much time they spent here, something seemed able to seep into them and make them who they are today. “I don’t believe that would have happened in Nashville.” Azar is loved all over the globe, but he’s more beloved in Mississippi. Former Governor Ronnie Musgrove was honored for his contributions to the state by designating March 13 Steve Azar Day. Recently, Gov. Azar was named by Phil Bryant the Music & Cultural Ambassador of Mississippi. This is to represent tourism._x000D