MAC Announces 2021 Governor’s Arts Awards Recipients and 2021 Broadcast-Only Event

JACKSON, MISS. – October 27, 2020 – The Mississippi Arts Commission is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021 Governor’s Arts Awards as well as a broadcast-only format for the upcoming award ceremony, which will be aired in February 2021 on MPB. Established in 1988, Governor’s Arts Awards are given to individuals and organizations to recognize outstanding work in the artistic disciplines as well as arts-based community development and arts patronage in Mississippi. The awards are presented in partnership with the Governor’s Office and signify the important relationship between government and the arts.

The 2021 recipients and awards are as follows:

Arthur Jafa – Excellence in Media Arts

Nellie McInnis – Excellence in Music

Raphael Semmes – Cultural Ambassador

Tutwiler Quilters – Arts in Community

Jesmyn Ward – Excellence in Literature

Benjamin Wright – Lifetime Achievement

The presentation of the 33rd Governor’s Arts Awards will be aired on MPB TV, MPB Think Radio, and portions of the ceremony will be accessible via digital media. Air dates for the show will be announced later this year.  

“While we will deeply miss convening the state’s great artists and art patrons this year, we know that it is now more important than ever to recognize and honor the power of the arts,” said incoming Mississippi Arts Commission Executive Director Sarah Story. “Though the 33rd Governor’s Arts Awards will look different than years past, these six recipients have made incredible contributions to the arts in our state, often overcoming obstacles to do so. We plan to celebrate their work in a meaningful way and rise to the challenge of recognizing these awardees during a global pandemic.”

About the Recipients

Arthur Jafa is an artist, filmmaker and cinematographer from Tupelo, Miss., who has worked to address African-American identity through contemporary imagery for the past three decades. His 2016 video Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death received worldwide acclaim and The White Album received the Golden Lion award at the 2019 Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most prestigious art festivals. He has worked with the likes of Julie Dash, Spike Lee, Kanye West, among others. His work is represented in collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian American Museum of Art.

Nellie McInnis, best known as “Nellie Mack,” has been recognized as the first professional female bass player in Mississippi. A native of Jackson, Miss., McInnis formed an all-female jazz group called Past, Present & Future, which included Cassandra Wilson, Rhonda Richmond and Yvonne Evers. McInnis has toured nationally and internationally and has performed with Clark Terry, Henry Mancini, Ellis Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Dorothy Moore, Pat Brown and many others. She leads the gospel group Nellie Mack and Soft Winds as well as the jazz, blues and R&B group The Nellie Mack Project.   

Raphael Semmes is a lifelong musician and songwriter as well as an event organizer based in Jackson, Miss. A bass player, Semmes has performed with blues and jazz artists such as John Lee Hooker, Vasti Jackson, Milt Hinton, Mose Allison and Jewel Bass. He has organized the annual Wells Fest in Jackson for the past three decades, cofounded the Township Jazz Festival in Ridgeland and plays an annual Blues Day concert for public school children. Semmes has also written and recorded songs for Visit Mississippi, the state’s tourism bureau. 

Tutwiler Quilters is a project of the Tutwiler Community Education Center in Tutwiler, Miss., that helps African-American women in the Mississippi Delta use their quilt-making skills to support themselves, their families and help preserve the tradition indigenous to African-American people in the Delta. Participating in a creative economy, each quilter is paid for their work, and the TCEC sells the items on their website and at craft shows. After being featured on CBS’s 60 Minutes, the Tutwiler Quilters have shipped quilts to nearly every state in the nation as well as England, Australia and other countries.

Jesmyn Ward is a writer from DeLisle, Miss., and professor of creative writing at Tulane University. She has written or edited six books. She was the recipient of the National Book Award for her books Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing. Other acclaimed books she has written include Where the Line Bleeds, Men we Reaped, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, a book of essays edited by Ward and the newly released Navigate Your Stars. She is also a recipient of a MacArthur genius grant among many other awards and accolades. A Mississippi Writers Trail marker recognizing her contributions to contemporary literature was among the first trail markers announced.  

Benjamin Wright is a GRAMMY award winning songwriter, arranger, composer, musical director and performer from Greenville, Miss., whose musical career stretches more than half a century. With hundreds of musical credits to his name and more than 30 gold, platinum and diamond album certifications, Wright has had a major impact on popular music. He has worked with artists such as Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Outkast, The Temptations, Earth Wind & Fire, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, The Gap Band, Rance Allen, Raphael Saadiq and many others

About the Governor’s Arts Awards

The Governor’s Arts Awards is an annual ceremony that recognizes individuals and organizations that have made noteworthy contributions to the arts in the state of Mississippi. Schools, businesses, organizations, arts initiatives and events are eligible to receive Governor’s Arts Awards, in addition to individual artists and supporters of the arts. Notable past recipients include John Grisham, B.B. King, Cassandra Wilson, the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi and Malaco Records.

Award winners are nominated by members of the public and selected by a jury of community arts leaders and industry peers. Recipients are not required to be Mississippi residents, but they must have significant ties to the state through some years of residency.

Contributions from individuals and local companies help make the Governor’s Arts Awards a special occasion for those honored. If you or your company is interested in sponsoring February’s event, please contact