Mound Bayou Blues

Mound Bayou Blues - Mound Bayou

Music has been one of the many facets of African American culture proudly nurtured by the community of Mound Bayou, ranging from blues and R&B in cafes, lounges, and juke joints to musical programs in schools, studios, and churches. Mound Bayou’s cast of performers, both formally schooled and self-taught, has included the pioneer king of Delta blues, Charley Patton, fiddler Henry “Son” Simms, singers Nellie “Tiger” Travis and Sir Lattimore Brown, and guitarist Eddie El.

Mound Bayou’s legacy in blues and rhythm & blues extends from the earliest Delta blues to 21st century southern soul. Charley Patton, who paved the way for Delta blues, lived, performed, and even preached in and around Mound Bayou at various times. Son Simms, a resident here in 1900, later performed and recorded with Patton and Muddy Waters after moving to Farrell. A dance band from Mound Bayou reported in a 1932 issue of the Chicago Defender was called the Southern Rangers. The town was also on the itinerary of many minstrel shows.

Several performers with Mound Bayou roots launched careers after leaving Mississippi, including Lattimore Brown, Eddie El, General Crook, and Sylvester Boines. In the 1960s and ’70s Brown recorded regularly, primarily in Nashville, and, although his career was plagued by misfortune, he enjoyed a late career revival after a soul music internet blogger tracked him down in Biloxi. El and guitarist Earl Drane from Eupora, Mississippi, recorded in Chicago as the Blues Rockers for the Aristocrat and Chess labels in 1949-50. Crook had six singles on the 1970-74 Billboard soul charts and later wrote songs for Syl Johnson, Willie Clayton, and others in Chicago. Boines was a Chicago blues bass player, and his brother Aaron played guitar and harmonica.

A younger generation of performers, including some alumni of the popular high school marching band and stage band, developed here under the guidance of R&B veteran Ed Townsend, co-author of the Marvin Gaye hit “Let’s Get It On.” In 1984 Townsend founded a program not only to assemble a band and produce recordings but also to educate locals about the music business. The band, named SSIPP (after Mississippi) by vocalist Nellie Travis, included Linda Gillespie, who later recorded under the name Jaslynn, Joe Johnson (aka Joe Eagle), Gene Williams, Trenis Simmons, Grover Miller, Jr., Donald Grant, and Cedric Evans, later a band director in Cleveland. Travis, a former trombonist and majorette, became one of Chicago’s most prominent blueswomen, with several CDs to her credit and a widespread international blues and soul following. Miller did blues session work in Clarksdale and composed “The Centennial Song: Happy Birthday, Mound Bayou” in 1987. Johnson played drums with Little Milton, Albert King, and Little Jimmy King and founded the Eagle Music & Media Academy in Mound Bayou in 1997 to carry on Townsend’s mission.

Former residents of note include O. B. Buchana, a favorite on the southern soul circuit; organist and music instructor Harvey Marshall; gospel singer Ernestine Rundless; and Sam Cooke’s mother, Annie Mae. A hotel here on Main Street owned by Tippy Hill was once a hot spot for blues bands, while the IBPOEW Elks Lodge and American Legion hall also presented musical events. Deejays and jukeboxes have usually provided the music at other venues such as the Paradise Lounge.

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