Clinton’s Blues Legacy

Clinton’s Blues Legacy - Clinton

The blues has long been connected to Black churches in a variety of ways, and in Clinton this connection can be traced through generations of blues and gospel musicians. Clinton’s renowned resident blues artists, Eddie Cotton, Jr. and Jarekus Singleton, both started playing guitar in church. Award-winning blues poet and educator Sterling Plumpp drew on his deep religious upbringing in Clinton to compose works in Chicago imbued with the spirit and rhythms of blues, gospel, and jazz.

Clinton’s blues legacy escalated to new heights after Eddie Cotton, Jr., and Jarekus Singleton emerged as two of Mississippi’s most acclaimed musicians. They shared an intertwined family history immersed in the teachings and celebratory music of the Church of God in Christ, while former Clinton resident Sterling Plumpp was raised in the Baptist church and studied at Catholic schools.

Eddie Cotton, born April 11, 1970, in Jackson, was groomed from childhood to play guitar and become music director at his father’s Christ Chapel True Gospel Church of God in Christ in Clinton. Inspired  by blues on WMPR radio and by the live performances of Jackson bluesman King Edward, Cotton  developed into one of the area’s top blues acts, while continuing to play at church services. He performed at international blues festivals and recorded albums both independently and for other labels, including live sets at the Alamo Theater and studio CDs with Grady Champion of Canton. Cotton earned several Jackson Music Awards and won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2015.

The Cotton family had once been members of Jimmie Shearry’s True Gospel Church of God in Christ  in Jackson, where Shearry’s grandson Jarekus Singleton played bass before switching to guitar under the tutelage of his uncle, Tony Shearry. Emmett Shearry, Jimmie’s brother, taught guitar to Eddie Cotton, who in turn instructed Tony Shearry. Singleton was born in Jackson on July 11, 1984, and grew up in Clinton. Once a rapper and poet, he embarked on a basketball career that was cut short by an injury after college. While still playing gospel in church, he turned his professional attention to the blues, and his star rose quickly in the music world. A self-released CD of his original songs in 2011 led to honors  in the Jackson Music Awards, festival appearances, and an album with Alligator Records of Chicago. Singleton was nominated for several of the Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards in 2015 and 2016.

Sterling Plumpp was born on a plantation outside Clinton on January 30, 1940. He attended Holy Ghost M.B. Church and started school at Sumner Hill. With proceeds from sales of food and bootleg liquor, an aunt sent him to Holy Ghost High School, where he graduated as valedictorian and earned a scholarship to St. Benedict’s College in Kansas. In Chicago he became an avid blues and jazz devotee and wrote lyrics for bluesmen Billy Branch and Willie Kent in addition to his books of poetry. Plumpp taught at the University of Illinois-Chicago and later at Mississippi Valley State University.

One of the earliest local blues musicians was guitarist Andrew “Bobo” Thomas, born near Clinton,  c. 1914. Thomas recorded “Catfish Blues” in 1951 and performed for years in Jackson clubs. George Myrick also played guitar on the Jackson blues scene with many bands and toured with Benny Latimore for fifteen years. Myrick was born in Clinton on September 10, 1950. Text by Jim O’Neal.

This is marker No. 212 on the Mississippi Blues Trail, dedicated October 27, 2022.

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