Constructed in 1923 and renamed the King Edward Hotel in 1954, the Edwards Hotel was the site of temporary studios set up by OKeh Records in 1930 and the American Record Corporation in 1935 to record blues artists Bo Carter, Robert Wilkins, Joe McCoy, Isaiah Nettles, the Mississippi Sheiks, and others. The Mississippi Sheiks also performed at the hotel, and Houston Stackhouse recalled that he played here together with fellow bluesman Robert Nighthawk and country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers.
The Edwards Hotel, housed in a luxurious, twelve-story Beaux Arts style building, would appear at first glance to be an odd place to make blues recordings. The first hotel on the site, the Confederate House, was built in 1861, and after its destruction by General Sherman’s forces in 1863 it was rebuilt in 1867 as the three-story Edwards House. The Edwards Hotel was constructed in 1923, and soon became a favorite lodging and deal-making place for state legislators. Its role as a recording studio stemmed from the fact that prior to World War II all major recording companies were located in the North, and Southern-based artists often had to travel hundreds of miles to record. An occasional solution was setting up temporary facilities at hotels, and in Jackson the OKeh and ARC companies turned to H. C. Speir, a talent scout who operated Speir Phonograph Company on nearby North Farish Street.
Speir had previously discovered blues artists Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson and sent them to other cities to record. Together with Polk Brockman of OKeh, Speir arranged the first sessions in Mississippi in December of 1930 at the Edwards Hotel. Blues performers at the sessions included the Mississippi Sheiks, an African American string band from the Bolton/Edwards area, who had recorded the massive hit Sitting On Top of the World for OKeh earlier in 1930. Individual members of the Sheiks' rotating cast also recorded at the hotel, including the duo of guitarists Bo Carter (Chatmon) and Walter Jacobs (Vinson), and mandolinist Charlie McCoy, a native of Raymond. Other artists included Caldwell Bracey and his wife Virginia from Bolton, who recorded both gospel and blues (as “Mississippi” Bracy [sic]), the gospel duo of “Slim” Duckett and “Pig” Norwood, and Elder Charlie Beck and Elder Curry, who both recorded sermons. The sessions were also notable for capturing white Mississippi string bands, the Newton County Hill Billies and Freeny’s Barn Dance Band (from Leake County) as well as Tennessee-based country music pioneer Uncle Dave Macon.
In 1935 Speir set up a second series of sessions at the Edwards Hotel for ARC, which operated Vocalion and several other labels. The most prominent artist was Memphis bluesman Robert Wilkins, a native of Hernando who recorded as “Tim Wilkins.” Also recorded were pianist Harry Chatmon, brother of Bo Carter, and obscure and colorfully named artists Sarah and Her Milk Bull, the Delta Twins, Kid Stormy Weather, Blind Mack, and the Mississippi Moaner, aka Isaiah Nettles, a Copiah County native whose sole single, Mississippi Moan/It’s Cold In China, is widely regarded as a classic of early Mississippi blues.
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