What is: the original signage at the Lorraine hotel before it became the motel. During the creation of the National Civil Rights Museum in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the original hotel building was renovated to include reminders of what the hotel looked like before being transformed into the the motor court in the 1950s/60s.

What was: The signage on the Mulberry Street-Huling Avenue side promises steaks, shrimp and fish. It still entices some visitors who don’t realize at first that it’s part of the museum, not a restaurant.

Walter and Loree Bailey bought what had been the Marquette Hotel in 1945. The Baileys renamed the hotel the Lorraine for Loree Bailey and the Nat King Cole song “Sweet Lorraine.”

In the era of racial segregation, an African-American traveling for any reason had few hotels to stay at and couldn’t go to just any restaurant in the immediate vicinity. So the Bailey’s added a restaurant. The kitchen is where Loree Bailey prepared food for the motel’s guests.

Figures like Cab Calloway and Count Basie, along with Stax Records musicians used the Lorraine as a creative oasis of sorts. The Lorraine hosted doctors, lawyers, salesmen, businessmen, families on vacation, and those traveling America after World War II who were determined to change the segregated society they returned to after fighting for their country.

Isaac Hayes reminisced, “We’d go down to the Lorraine Motel and we’d lay by the pool and Mr. Bailey would bring us fried chicken and we’d eat ice cream. . . . We’d just frolic until the sun goes down and [then] we’d go back to work.”

Two famous songs, “In the Midnight Hour” and “Knock on Wood,” were written at the motel.

More here

 

 

What is: Stax Records, “Soulsville USA” Memphis, Tennessee.  Its Founder, Jim Stewart, died this week at age 92.

What was: It was the late 1950s and Jim Stewart, a white Tennessee farm boy and fiddle player, co-founded with his sister the influential Stax Records  in a Black, inner-city Memphis neighborhood.  They helped build the soulful “Memphis sound” – a raw sound born from Black church music, the blues and rock ‘n’ roll. It featured strong rhythm sections, powerful horn players, and singers who could be sexy and soulful in one tune, and loud and forceful in another.

During the era of racial strife, white musicians and producers worked alongside Black singers, songwriters and instrumentalists to create that “Memphis sound” embodied by Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the MGs, Carla and Rufus Thomas, the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and many others. The recording produced lasting hits such as Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay,” Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood,” Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin'” and “Soul Man,” and “Green Onions” by Booker T. and the M.G.s.  Stax and its affiliated record labels released 300 albums and 800 singles between 1959 and 1975, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Stewart told The Associated Press in a May 2013 interview, “There was so much talent here, under circumstances that were almost considered impossible in Memphis, Tennessee in 1960, with the racial situation here. It was a sanctuary for all of us to get away from the outside world.”

Source: https://www.npr.org/2022/12/06/1140926122/stax-records-jim-stewart-co-founder-dies-92-memphis-sound?fbclid=IwAR0RbuBwf5LhMFONb2Hc5jBGuOtUjWNb_FgpBcU9XYO-29WbLx8wQuSBPMU

 

Isaac Hayes’ cadillac here

 


What is: Abandoned Train Station, Tutwiler, Mississippi

What was: Meet W.C Handy. William Christopher Handy (November 16, 1873 – March 28, 1958) was an American composer and musician who referred to himself as the Father of the Blues. Handy was one of the most influential songwriters in the United States. While he was one of many musicians who played American blues, Handy did not create the blues but he was the first to publish music in the blues form, thereby taking the blues from a regional music style (Delta blues) with a limited audience to a new level of popularity.

Tutwiler, Mississippi is probably best known in music history as the place where W.C. Handy first discovered the blues, likely around 1903-1904, as he was waiting here, at Tutwiler’s railway station for a delayed train. At that time, Handy was managing a band based in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  Here’s how Handy described the encounter (Source: http://www.mississippibluestravellers.com/w-c-handy-autobiography-father-of-the-blues/)

“The band which I found in Clarksdale and the nine-man orchestra which grew out of it did yeoman duty in the Delta. We played for affairs of every description. I came to know by heart every foot of the Delta, even from Clarksdale to Lambert on the Dog and Yazoo City. I could call every stop, water tower and pig path on the Peavine with my eyes closed. It all became a familiar, monotonous round. Then one night in Tutwiler, as I nodded in the railroad station while waiting for a train that had been delayed nine hours, life suddenly took me by the shoulder and wakened me with a start.  A lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags, his feet peeped out of his shoes. As he played he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who use steel bars.  The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly. “Goin’ where the Southern cross’ the Dog.”

The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard. The tune stayed in my mind. When the singer paused, I leaned over and asked him what the words meant. He rolled his eyes, showing a trace of mild amusement. Perhaps I should have known, but he didn’t mind explaining. At Moorhead the eastbound and the westbound met and crossed the north and southbound trains four times a day. This fellow was going where the Southern cross’ the Dog, and he didn’t care who knew it. He was simply singing about Moorhead as he waited.”

From that epiphany in Tutwiler, W.C. Handy changed his own musical direction to a course which led to his becoming one of the most influential figures in the history of American music.

You gotta admire Willie’s rules and have to just imagine the pant suits…His rules included no rap music, which he claimed he detested. Other rules included No loud music, no dope smoking.” Beer was to be purchased inside, but customers could bring in their own liquor.😁
What is: Po’ Monkey’s was founded by Willie Seaberry in 1963, and was one of the last rural juke joints in the Mississippi Delta, wedged between a cotton field and a gravel road just over a mile west of Merigold, Mississippi.
What was: The shack was originally sharecroppers’ quarters. The building is made of tin and plywood, held together by nails, staples, and wires, loosely fashioned and made by Seaberry. Seaberry was best known for his strangely coordinated outfits of wildly exotic pantsuits. He could be seen sneaking out of bar room, into a bedroom offset of the drinking quarters, only to reappear in a new pantsuit. Seaberry was found dead on July 14, 2016. Po’ Monkey’s ceased operating after Seaberry’s death. The contents, including Christmas lights, signs and X-rated toy monkeys that hung from the ceiling, were auctioned off in 2018. The PORCH (Preservation of Rural Cultural Heritage) Society and Shonda Warner acquired them and hope to maintain the collection in a way that continues to bring it to life.
Po’ Monkey’s gained international fame as one of the most important cultural sites related to blues and American music. The club was typical of modern juke joints in that it rarely featured live entertainment, although it sometimes did. Often instead, Seaberry played recorded music, typically soul and R&B, using a DJ or a jukebox, and patrons danced, mingled, or shot pool. He had a strict rule against playing rap music, which he claimed he detested. Other rules included No loud music, no dope smoking.” Beer was to be purchased inside, but customers could bring in their own liquor.
Classic juke joints are found at rural crossroads and catered to the rural work force that began to emerge after the emancipation. Plantation workers and sharecroppers needed a place to relax and socialize following a hard week, particularly since they were barred from most white establishments by Jim Crow laws. Set up on the outskirts of town, often in ramshackle, abandoned buildings or private houses — never in newly-constructed buildings — juke joints offered food, drink, dancing and gambling for weary workers.
Its got it all …music, a scarred place, roadside america…

What is: Sharecroppers home, hot tin roof at the edge of the Stovall Plantation

What was: The Stovall Plantation is about 6 miles northwest of Clarksdale.  It’s 4000 acres of cotton and soybeans and been in the family since 1836. Clarksdale made the blues and sent the music north; it was the starting point of the Great Migration during which 5 million blacks left the South from 1940 to the mid-’60s, each heading for a new life in the North.

McKinley Morganfield moved there when his mother died in 1915. He was just 3 years old, and he came to be raised by his grandmother in her sharecropper’s shack on the plantation. He picked up a nickname, Muddy Waters, and started fooling around with music in his early teens, first the harmonica, then guitar. He played all around town, at suppers and get-togethers; he played on the front porch of the shack, on Saturday nights turning the place into his own juke joint, complete with homemade whiskey.

It took years, but he built a reputation, and it brought him recognition before he was 30. In 1940, Alan Lomax, the folklore collector at the Library of Congress, traveled to the Delta to record the music of Robert Johnson, the undisputed wild man of blues music. Trouble was, Johnson had been dead for nearly three years, poisoned by strychnine-laced whiskey one hot Saturday night at a roadhouse in Three Forks. Legend has it he had been fooling around with the roadhouse owner’s wife, and that was that. Or maybe he was stabbed; after more than 50 years, details remain sketchy.

So Lomax discovered he’d missed Johnson, but he heard about this guy named Muddy Waters at the Stovall Plantation. Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/travel/1993/07/04/where-the-blues-were-born/8efc1c14-e178-45df-b79b-3e15ba8ea3f6/).

 

What is: The abandoned Alcazar Hotel, Clarksdale, Mississippi

What was: The building is the second of the original hotel and was the center of social culture during the booming business days of the Delta. Advertised as the “most modern hotel in Mississippi” it was considered one of the premier hotels of the South.

Built with four stories and a glass dome on the second floor “which allowed natural light to filter through to the lobby on the first floor, where a restaurant and several other businesses were housed.  The building’s eleven storefront bays were where prominent Clarksdale businesses operated.

The Alcazar Hotel and Coffee Shop were all white restaurant and hotel (which is ironic as you will see later in the story). After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the employees of the Alcazar Hotel and the Alcazar Coffee Shop were instructed to “refuse service to Negroes.” According to the US District Court ruling filed in November 1965, Reverend George W. Trotter III of Memphis, a black man, attempted to obtain a room at the hotel on July 6, 1964, and Mrs. Vera Mae Pigee of Clarksdale, a black woman, attempted to obtain service at the coffee shop; both were refused because of their race.

The next day, the owners closed the hotel and coffee shop to avoid serving black customers. A few weeks later on July 27, the Regency Club was founded as a whites only private club, working in conjunction with Clarksdale King Anderson for use of the hotel, coffee shop, and staff. In December 1965, the court ruled against the discriminatory practices, barring the hotel from operating in cahoots with the club.

WROX was Clarksdale’s first radio station going on the air in June 1944.  WROX broadcast from the Alcazar Hotel for nearly 40 years.  Ike Turner operated the elevator in the hotel as a pre-teen and would go on to be a DJ at the radio station.

Early Wright, an auto mechanic by trade, came to the station in 1945 as the manager of the Four Star Quartet, a gospel group that had a 15-minute Sunday morning program. Management was so impressed by Early that he was hired and became the first black disc jockey in the state of Mississippi, breaking the color line in radio in Mississippi.  Early Wright developed a dual on-air persona as “The Soul Man” when he played blues and R&B records and “Brother Early Wright” when he switched back to gospel. Early was known to have one of the longest running radio shows in America from 1947-1998.  Musicians like Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Ike & Tina Turner, and B.B. King performed live at WROX and were interviewed by Early Wright

 

Early Wright holding the WROX sign in the Alcazar Hotel. Photo by Panny Flautt Mayfield.

More here

Early Wright Time over on Vimeo

What is: WABG Radio

What was: The Delta Blues was born out of a mixture of despair and dreaming. It reflects the distressed reality for blacks in the southern US states combined with the hopeful lyrical charm and beat of the great hymns of old. At its core, the Delta Blues is a heartbeat. It is a pulse that kept entire generations alive through the many trials and misfortunes of life.

The delta blues began in Mississippi among the plantations of the Mississippi River delta. The delta itself stretched from Vicksburg to Memphis. The overflow of the river left vast areas of fertile land that would turn into the cotton and vegetable plantations of the Deep South. Following the American Civil War, ex-slaves and sharecroppers continued to work the fields in the harshest of conditions.

As they labored, they sang. And the songs they sang were a reflection of the simplicity and poverty of life in the delta. In its initial form, the delta blues might have sometimes included a guitar or other similarly simple instrument.

It is in the Delta where there was a legendary meeting between Robert Johnson and the devil at the crossroads.  Robert Johnson is said to have exchanged his soul for the ability to play a distinct form of guitar. His life, riddled by reason to despair, was short-lived and yet the blues style he created has forever changed the face of music.

Radio was the center of mass media during 1930s, 40s and 50s.  Many people in the area couldn’t read and most couldn’t afford a television. Radio had the distinction of being able to both entertain and inform its listeners. It was this power to open and transform minds.  Once there were dozens of stations like WABG broadcasting delta blues to listeners all over the country. But as music and mass media evolved, WABG remained the same. This was, however, by the intention of its owner and sole disc jockey.

The station’s format is Mississippi Delta Blues, Classic Rock and “Stuff” (anything the listeners want to hear and anything the DJs want to play).  Its originator, James Poe, bases the format on the Mississippi Delta’s diverse population mix.  His belief is that with the rich culture of the delta and their history of southern rock & roll and blues and their proximity to Memphis, makes this format a daring likely success. The station’s Money Road location is also the setting for the burial ground of legendary blues man Robert Johnson (one of many).

Appropriately, the station’s physical location is set in the midst of the cotton fields of Greenwood, Mississippi on Money Road where the Emmett Till case unraveled in the 1950s, sparking the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.  The station is located less than a mile from the Little Zion M. B. Church and cemetery, one of the places thought to be the grave of Robert Johnson

Can you hear the music now?   You pick the song.

What us: Wurlitzer 1015 One More Time Jukebox (OMT) Vinyl

What was: Rudolph Wurlitzer’s forefathers emigrated to America in 1853. He was 24 years old.

Rudolph Wurlitzer founded The Wurlitzer Company in 1856. At first he imported musical instruments and opened sales outlets in American cities. He started production of pianos in America in 1880. In 1896 he introduced the first coin operated pianos.  The famous theatre organs followed.  They were manufactured near Buffalo.

With the crash in 1929, Farny Wurlitzer, youngest son of Rudolph, bought a patented music box mechanism at the beginning of the thirties, and took on it’s inventor, Homer Capehart, and a designer, Paul Fuller. This was the beginning of the “Golden” era for Wurlitzer with the first jukeboxes which played the old 78 shellac records. Wurlitzer quickly took over 60% of the booming jukebox market. The Wurlitzer Jukebox became a familiar sight to every restaurant or bar customer with the first “P10” model. After inserting a coin, one could select a song from a choice of 10 shellac record titles. In the Thirties, the Jukebox became the “small man’s concert hall”.

In the early Forties Wurlitzer produced some of most handsome dome top jukeboxes the world has very seen, which were made almost completely from wood due to wartime material restrictions. Wurlitzer had to call a halt to the production of jukeboxes due to the war in order to produce important war products such as radar components. These machines are prized as being the world’s most sought after and costly Jukeboxes.

The Wurlitzer 1015 became a big hit in 1946. It sold more than any other model in the 20th century. The “golden era” of the jukebox continued into the first post war years.  The “Silver era” of Jukeboxes began around 1950. The design was changed, the 45 single made inroads, and the selection from 100 titles became standard. Jukeboxes with shiny chrome and magical lighting began to be produced. They became a fascinating focal point in any bar or café.

By the end of the Fifties much of the earlier classic styling had been lost. Tooling costs to produce new models each year and compete with rival jukebox manufactures had weakened the company and the jukebox boom years were coming to an end.

“If you had to pick one single spot as the birthplace of the blues, you might say it all started right here,”

said the late and great B.B. King standing at the Dockery 

The Blues: Blues music is rooted in several musical genres and then it spins off as the roots of rock and roll.  Blues Music originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s by African-Americans from roots in African-American work songs and religious spirituals. The first appearance of the blues is often dated to the end of slavery and, later, the development of juke joints. It is often associated with the acquired freedom of the former slaves and their challenges. Chroniclers began to report about blues music at the dawn of the 20th century. The first publication of blues sheet music was in 1908.

The main features of blues include: specific chord progressions, a walking bass, call and response, dissonant harmonies, syncopation, melisma and flattened ‘blue’ notes. Blues is known for being microtonal, using pitches between the semitones defined by a piano keyboard. This is often achieved on electric guitar using a metal slide for a whining effect. As a result, blues can be heavily chromatic. Originally the lyrics utilized a call and response component.

Dockery Farms: The Dockery plantation at its peak in the mid 1930s consisted of 18,000 acres and extended over 28 square miles of rich fertile lowland along the Sunflower River. It had its own currency and general store, a physician, a railroad depot, a dairy, a seed house, cotton gin, sawmill, and three churches. There was also a school for the 1,000 to 3,000 men, women, and children who worked during the farm’s busiest times as either day laborers or as sharecroppers. The workers’ quarters included boarding-houses, where they lived, socialized and played music.  Farm workers often sang while working the fields and their music became their basic entertainment.

In the 1900s a young Charlie Patton’s parents took up residence at the Dockery Farms. Charlie took to following around guitarist Henry Sloan to musicals performances.  Charlie would become his own musician, and considered the father of the Delta Blues.

Charlie Patton and other bluesmen, drawn to Dockery by its central location and sizable population, used the plantation as their home base. When at the Dockery they often played on the porch of the commissary and at all-night picnics hosted by Will Dockery for residents. He and the others also traveled the network of state roads around Dockery Farms to communities large enough to support audiences that loved the blues. In the 1920s he could make about $25 for a performance at a party.

It was Patton’s live performances in the area that inspired and influenced fans such as Robert Johnson (who sold his soul to the devil to play blues), Bukka White, Ed “Son” House, Chester Burnett (also known as “Howlin’ Wolf), and Roebuck “Pop” Staples (as in the father and inspiration behind the Staples Singers). These important artists in blues history either lived at or passed through Dockery Farms.

 

 

What is: the Dockery Farms Service Station, between Cleveland and Ruleville, Mississippi

What was: The service station/store, circa 1935, contained the general farm office and Joe Rice Dockery’s private office (Lester, 2005). It retains its original glass front counters, and a scale is visible through one of the front windows.

From Smithsonian Magazine: The plantation was founded on the vision of Will Dockery, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, who took a $1,000 gift from his grandmother and purchased tracts of Delta wilderness in 1885. Over a decade, the transformed the land into a cotton plantation. Eventually, the company town had an elementary school, churches, post and telegraph offices, a resident doctor, a ferry, a blacksmith shop, a cotton gin, cemeteries, picnic grounds for the workers, its own currency, and a commissary that sold dry goods, furniture, and groceries. To ship out the cotton, Dockery built a railroad depot and a spur route, named the Pea Vine for its twisted path, was laid from the main station in nearby Boyle (Patton’s “Pea Vine Blues” pays tribute to the line). At one time, roughly 3,000 people lived on the plantation’s 40 square miles.

Dockery Farms is widely regarded as the place where Delta blues music was born. Blues musicians resident at Dockery included Charley Patton, Robert Johnson (sold his soul to the develi)  and Howlin’ Wolf and Pop Staples (Dad to the Staples Singers)