Nelson Street was once the epicenter of African American business and entertainment in the Delta. Nightclubs, cafes, churches, groceries, fish markets, barbershops, laundries, record shops, and other enterprises did a bustling trade. Famous blues clubs on the street included the Casablanca, the Flowing Fountain, and the Playboy Club. Willie Love saluted the street in his 1951 recording "Nelson Street Blues."
Whereas many Delta towns once "rolled up the sidewalks" in time for curfews, Greenville nurtured a flourishing nightlife, especially during the 1940s and ‘50s. Blues artists and audiences from throughout the area gravitated to the cafes, pool halls, and nightclubs of Nelson Street. The music ranged from raw Delta blues to big band jump blues and jazz. Years before he became America’s top black recording artist, Louis Jordan joined local bandleader and music educator Winchester Davis for some performances here in 1928.
When down-home southern blues was at its commercial peak in the American rhythm and blues industry in the early 1950s, record companies headed for Nelson Street in search of talent. Leading lights on the local scene included Willie Love and Sonny Boy Williamson II, both of whom recorded for the Jackson-based Trumpet label. In 1952 Charlie Booker and others recorded for the rival Modem Records at the Casablanca, an upscale restaurant and lounge at 1102 Nelson, which advertised its services "For Colored Only." In the midst of one session, the local sheriff ordered the recording stopped when artists contracted to Trumpet attempted to record for Modem. The resulting lawsuit made headlines in the national trade papers.
One of the Casablanca recordings, Charlie Booker’s "No Ridin’ Blues," joined Willie Love’s "Nelson Street Blues" as a local anthem when Booker sang, "Greenville’s smokin’, Leland’s burnin’ down." Booker, Love, and Little Milton Campbell were among the blues artists who had their own radio shows on WGVM or WJPR. Disc jockey Rocking Eddie Williams later had a record store on Nelson Street. Blues venues of the 1950s included Henry T’s Pool Room, the Silver Dollar Cafe and the Blue Note.
Nelson Street alumni include Oliver Sain, Eddie Shaw, J.W. "Big Moose" Walker, Burgess Gardner, Lil’ Bill Wallace, Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes, Willie Foster, T-Model Ford, John Horton, and Lil’ Dave Thompson, as well as Greenville’s first black policeman, guitarist Willie "Burl" Carson. The most successful of them all, Little Milton, paid tribute to the Flowing Fountain, a Nelson Street show club, in his 1987 Malaco Records hit "Annie Mae’s Cafe."
content © Mississippi Blues Commission
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