Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Natchez
could have an opera festival like that?
— Lani Riches, to her husband, Ron after attending the Santa Fe Opera Festival, 1990.

It all started with…

a question asked by Lani Riches as she and her husband returned from a delightful trip to the Santa Fe Opera Festival in 1990. David Armstrong, then Mayor of Natchez, agreed to call a meeting of the community at Staton Hall’s Carriage House. It was there that Dr. David Blackburn was charged with the task of preparing a conceptual plan of Natchez. When the plan was presented at the Monmouth Plantation Historic Inn later that year, the Festival was born. 

The stars had aligned perfectly–this was meant to be. How else could anyone explain the events immediately after the Riches returned from Santa Fe? At the time, the Riches were the owners and proprietors of the Monmouth Inn. Over dinner, they struck up a conversation with Natchez local Buzz Harper, and the Blackburns who just happened to be staying at the Inn... Learning that Dr. Blackburn was a well-respected Opera professor and conductor working in New York…Or that two of the performers from the Santa Fe festival were singers in Dr. Blackburn’s studio back in New York…Or that Dr. Blackburn’s schedule was flexible enough at that very time to meet with the leadership in Natchez…
Natchez had in Dr. Blackburn a wonderful gentlemen, who was not only the co-founder and first Artistic Director of the Festival, but who also become a committed Natchez resident.



Lani Riches • Ron Riches • Dr. David Blackburn • Buzz Harper



When Alcorn University became a major sponsor in 2001, it transformed the Festival in Miss-Lou, providing support through performance by the Alcorn Concert Choir and music students, offerings of Master’s level coursework, participation in minority musical productions, Broadway shows, and operas as well as many opportunities to enjoy the performances free of charge.

In 2003, the Festival was re-branded to "Natchez Festival of Music" to include a wider range of world-class music and live theater from internationally and nationally recognized performers. It added events and shows from Broadway musicals, to Jazz, Blues, and other special concerts.



Following the untimely death of Dr. Blackburn, George Hogan became Artistic Director in 2009 and created a connection with the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Then in 2011, Jay Dean took charge as Artistic Director; connecting the Festival with University of Southern Mississippi located in Hattiesburg, and thus creating a strong tie to other outstanding music festivals throughout the state of Mississippi.