Edwards Hotel - Jackson
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.
Together with Polk Brockman of OKeh, Speir, who had previously sent blues artists to other cities to record, 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. Records from the Edwards session were also credited to individual members of the Sheiks’ rotating cast, including guitarists Bo Carter (Chatmon) and Walter Jacobs (Vinson), and to Raymond native Charlie McCoy, with whom the Sheiks were billed as the Mississippi Hot Footers. 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, the Campbell College Quartet, and Elder Charlie Beck and Elder Curry, who both recorded sermons. The sessions also notably featured white Mississippi string bands, the Newton County Hill Billies, Freeny’s Barn Dance Band, and the Leake County Revelers, as well as Tennessee-based country music pioneer Uncle Dave Macon.
In 1935 Speir set up sessions (not at the hotel as once reported, but at the Crystal Palace on Farish Street) for Brunswick/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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