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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Press Release: New Blues Trail Marker In Mississippi

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: LYNN ORMAN 847-452-6469
BLACK PRAIRIE BLUES TO BE HONORED WITH BLUES TRAIL MARKER
MACON, MS (AUGUST 19) The Black Hill Prairie Blues will be honored with
a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail, which was developed under the
leadership of Governor Haley Barbour and is designed to preserve the
state’s musical heritage through more than 100 historical markers and
interpretive sites. The ceremony will take place Tuesday, August 19,
2008 at 11:00 a.m. on the corner of Green and Jefferson Street in Macon,
Mississippi.
“Macon in Noxubee County represents the heart of Mississippi’s own
Black Hill Prairie Blues. As home to some of the state’s most
recognized Blues musicians, including fiddler Eddy Clearwater and
harmonica player Carey Bell, this region has long played an important
role in the development of our unique musical heritage,” Governor
Barbour said. “Noxubee County and the Black Hill Prairie region are a
welcome addition to the Mississippi Blues Trail.”
The roots of blues and gospel music run deep in the African American
culture of the Black Prairies region. Several performers born near Macon
in Noxubee County, including Eddy Clearwater, Carey Bell, and Jesse
Fortune, went on to achieve renown in Chicago blues, while others, such
as Brother Joe May and Robert Blair, became gospel singing stars. In
Prairie Point near the Mississippi-Alabama state line, Willie King
kindled a new blues movement as the political prophet of the juke
joints.
Noxubee County, with the highest percentage of African American
population of any county in eastern Mississippi, has much in common with
the Delta, including a legacy of cotton, blues, and economic struggle.
In antebellum days when slaves sang spirituals and work songs on the
local cotton plantations, those with musical talent also played fiddle
or banjo as entertainers at white social affairs. This musical tradition
carried over into the 20th century, when a number of African American
string bands were active in the county, playing for both white and black
audiences. These included the Duck Brothers (Charlie, Albert, and Vandy
Duck), the Salt and Pepper Shakers (Perie, Doc, and Preston Spiller),
and the Nickersons (featuring fiddler Booger Nickerson).
Another Macon fiddler, Houston H. Harrington, guided a branch of what
would become one of the most prolific families in the blues. Harrington
married Perie Spiller's daughter Hilda and moved to Chicago, where their
sons Joe and Vernon formed a blues band. His nephew, Eddy Harrington, is
well known on the international blues circuit as Eddy Clearwater.
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Clearwater, famed for his flamboyant stage act as “The Chief,”
attired in an American Indian headdress, was born just east of Macon on
January 10, 1935.
Yet another Macon product who attained worldwide fame after moving to
Chicago was harmonica virtuoso Carey Bell, whose real surname was also
Harrington. Bell (born Nov. 14, 1936), played with Muddy Waters, Willie
Dixon, and many others, and also fathered a brood of blues musicians,
including renowned guitarist Lurrie Bell and harmonica protégé Steve
Bell. Carey Bell died on May 6, 2007. Vocalist Jesse Fortune, who was
born near Macon on Feb. 28, 1930, also embarked on a lengthy blues
career in Chicago in the 1950s.
Big Joe Williams, one of the most prominent blues recording artists
from the Black Prairies, came from Crawford to perform in Noxubee County
at times. Guitarist Elijah Brown, a friend of Williams, was born in
Macon. Williams (1903-1982) and fellow bluesman John Wesley Macon (c.
1923-1973), known as “Mr. Shortstuff,” both died in Macon.
Guitarist Willie King (born in Grass Hill, east of Macon, on March 18,
1943) and his band have carried on the local blues tradition with
performances at juke joints, house parties, and festivals. In 2000 King
began to draw widespread acclaim for his recordings of
politically-themed “struggling songs,” an outgrowth of his
activities in civil rights in Pickens County, Alabama. Several members
of King's band, the Liberators, have also hailed from Macon, including
Willie James Williams, Willie Lee Halbert, and Johnnie B. Smith. Other
performers active on the local music scene around Brooksville have
included Robert Earl Greathree and Brown Sugar.
For more information on Mississippi blues artists, or to submit
information on blues artists, contact:
Jim O’Neal, Mississippi Blues Trail Research Director (816-931-0383,
bluesoterica@aol.com).
The Mississippi Blues Trail markers are funded in part by a grant from
the National Endowment for the Humanities and by support from the
Noxubee Economic & Community Development Alliance, Mississippi
Department of Transportation, Delta State University and the Mississippi
Development Authority.
To contact the Mississippi Blues Trail office in Jackson, contact Alex
Thomas (601-359-3297, athomas@mississippi.org) or Leigh Portwood
(601-359-3061, lportwood@mississippi.org).
For further information on the Mississippi Blues Trail, go to
www.msbluestrail.org.

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