Sunday, October 16, 2011

I've Got the Delta Blues, Part I, The Blues and Barbeque

I am from the land of the Delta Blues . . .

King and Anderson Plantation, Clarksdale, MS, 1940

Sign on the "Blue Shack" at Clarksdale's Shack Up Inn

I grew up with elegant . . .

AND earthy

The "Blue Shack" at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale

I love them both.

And I especially love them together.

I was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1960. 

Clarksdale's Coahoma County Hospital where I was born, ca 1960

My Mother Anna Ruth with me, December 19, 1960

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times.

 It was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness.

 It was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair.
Excerpted from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities

Home on King and Anderson Plantation, ca 1940

During the first half of the booming 1900's
"Cotton was King" and
Clarksdale was known as the
"Golden Buckle in the Cotton Belt."

Clarksdale's Italian Renaissance Villa Style Cutrer Mansion,
 originally called "Belvoir" by its owners, was saved
 from demolition not long ago and is now a cultural arts center. 
The home and its owners were inspiration for the writings of Tennessee Williams.

My Grandfather used to play cards regularly at the Clarksdale Elks Club.
He would put my Mother on the big elk on the left so she could "ride" him. 

As a small child, I lived between Lambert and Marks on the Coldwater River,

but I visited Clarksdale probably two to three times a week, on average, my whole childhood. (It only takes about twenty minutes
 to get from Marks to Clarksdale.)

As my home newspaper, the
 Quitman County Democrat,
 used to regularly report in the
"Lambert News" section, we quite often "motored to Clarksdale" to enjoy all the things that the "Golden Buckle" had to offer.

My Mother's car was blue.

Walking to church, somewhere between Memphis and Clarksdale, ca 1960

Once we had "motored to Clarksdale", there were lots of things to do:

which usually meant a shot,
at the dreaded pediatrician Dr. Melvin Ehrich's, in the McWilliams building with the heavy, and somewhat scary, old elevator with metal grid safety doors and an elevator operator. And of course Nurse Margie was always looming with real, huge glass needles, NOT the little plastic ones we have now,

I just purchased this rusty iron remnant, to repurpose as a doormat for a client, in Clarksdale from Delta Debris.
It looks almost exactly like the metal elevator doors in the McWilliams Building. 

or sometimes visiting Mr. Abernathy at the accounting office of Ellis and Hirsberg in the same McWilliams Building so Nanny could take care of her
"gin business".

at Woolworth's for all kinds of things, and at Powers and the Style Shoppe for clothes and shoes, where the same sales ladies who had waited on my Mother as a child also waited on us. Nanny always insisted on
Kate Sebulsky at the Style Shoppe!

 lunch at the
Alcazar Grill, where Nanny loved
the tomato aspic, and dinner at the
Holiday Inn, where my sister Susan would not eat her "shimp cocktail" without a cocktail fork, or Polles', where we threw many pennies into the koi filled fountain and  
drank too many Shirley Temples. And we ALWAYS got an iced gingerbread man
at Al's Bakery on Delta.

 At one time, Clarksdale's radio station WROX, which played Blues music, was located in the Alcazar.  Ike Turner was an elevator operator there. He became fascinated by the operation of the radio station and at the the age of eight, he started working at the station.
 This early exposure was the start to Ike Turner's music career.

Architectural Detail on the at the Alcazar Hotel entrance

Only a "Gourmet" sign remains at the Alcazar Grill

at the Paramount Theater,

The Paramount Theater in Clarksdale has long been closed, and is now the Super Soul Shop.

and of course
even if we had already eaten somewhere else!
(We did a lot of eating!)

The absolutely best barbeque I have eaten anywhere is at Abe's, at THE Crossroads in Clarksdale. 
Mail order the sauce!

Newspaper Clipping, hanging on the wall at Abe's, of my Daddy dining at Abe's

 All these things in Clarksdale are gone now except Abe's.

Only the Barbeque and The Blues remain

As a child I really didn't know what the Blues were, but I did know they were singing them
 in the Delta and in Clarksdale.
 The very crop that created the wealth and tremendous prosperity of the "Golden Buckle" also perpetuated suffering and desperation, and from that suffering came

“I Be’s Troubled”
Well [if] I feel tomorrow
Like I feel today,
[I’m] gonna pack my suitcase
And make my getaway
Lord, I’m troubled, I’m all worried in my mind
And I never been satisfied,
And I just can’t keep from cryin’.
Delta Bluesman Muddy Waters, Stovall Plantation, Clarksdale

Hopson Plantation, Clarksdale, MS, ca 1940

 Delta bluesman Big George Brock said, “The blues come from hard times. Blues come from a feeling that you got when you didn’t have nowhere else to go, and the blues walked into your soul and into your mind, and it just accumulate like grass grow out of the ground. It just growed up in you.”

Delta Bluesman Big George Brock

Clarksdale is considered the heart and birthplace of the blues. An old myth has it that Father of the Blues, Robert Johnson, supposedly sold his soul to the devil right at the crossroads of highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale so that he could play the guitar and sing the blues.

 Robert Johnson died very young, reportedly from whisky poisoned by a jealous husband 

I had not visited Clarksdale in a while, but I spent the afternoon with my Delta Academy elementary school friend Madge Marley Howell, publisher and producer of the Delta Bohemian blogazine and a Clarksdalian, in Clarksdale this week to learn more about her venture and to get an inside look at what's going on in the birthplace I share with the Blues. 

Madge and I didn't miss a beat! It was a meeting of Delta minds. 

Madge and Billy Howell

 Madge formerly managed Madidi, the restaurant owned by actor Morgan Freeman and attorney Bill Luckett, and along with her husband Billy, is devoting herself full time to the Delta Bohemian. 

I love that name "Delta Bohemian".

Madge shared with me that one morning Billy just told her that the two words came to him and he felt a deep call to use them. 
 The Delta Bohemian was born.

 The DB is a celebration of diversity and constancy in the Mississippi Delta.
  It is literary, quirky, zany, fresh, unconventional, curious, and sometimes a little
EVERYTHING that the Delta and Deltans are.
Frankly, I love it!  It feels like home.

The new Delta Bohemian office, fittingly located on Delta

After we talked about the DB, Madge took me on a little tour.
Admittedly, I wasn't expecting to see that much activity on a weekday afternoon in Clarksdale in mid-October, but I was ever so pleasantly surprised. . . 

Of course there are still barbeque and
 The Blues, but there is SO much more.

To be continued . . .


In honor of my boys' Blue Tick Houndogs, who were named for their Grandaddy and my Daddy and The Blues,
Banger's Old Bluebell Hunter
Banger's Blue Sister Lucille (BB King's Guitar is Lucille)

My oldest son Trainor with prize winning Lucille

 Photo Credits: NYPL Digital Gallery, Marilyn Storey, Cooper Postcard Collection MDAH,,, Delta Bohemian

Please visit the Delta Bohemian at
or on Facebook
A direct link to the DB is coming soon to
MS Design Maven


  1. What a glorious page!! Makes the Marks/Lambert/Clarksdale area sound like THE place to be. Nice to see it through your eyes

  2. You are sooo right. The best and worst of times. Wonderful post. Mona


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