Ocean Springs Blues

Ocean Springs Blues - Ocean Springs

Music has been an integral component of Ocean Springs’ legacy as a coastal cradle of the arts and a sponsor of festive celebrations. Notable African-American musicians born in Ocean Springs include Jaimoe (Johnnie Lee Johnson), who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Allman Brothers Band; Henry Donahue, an accomplished guitarist and bandleader; and pianist Tempy Smith and her multi-talented children, who were renowned in the 1920s on the coast and later in New York City.

Ocean Springs music has encompassed a wide variety of genres in an equally wide assortment of settings, including the historic Marshall Park bandstand, the Gulf Hills resort, Mardi Gras parades, community centers, restaurants, nightclubs, outdoor festivals and the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows hall (once located a few blocks east of this site). Blues has been in the repertoires of performers who learned to play in several styles to accommodate the range of audience tastes and gained more of a foothold when The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint on Highway 57 began booking artists who specialized in blues in the early 2000s. Blues has also since been featured at the Mary C. O’Keefe Arts & Cultural Center, the Julep Room, Murky Waters, Mosaic Tapas Restaurant & Bar, Leo’s Wood Fired Pizza, Mississippi Juke Joint, and Rosetti Park, site of the Ocean Springs LIVE concert series. Jamell Richardson (“the Gulf Coast Blues Boy”), Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, and Mr. Sipp are among the blues artists with Mississippi roots who have performed in town, along with area residents Libby Rae Watson, Fort Bayou Slim and others.

Ocean Springs’ most famous native musical son, Jaimoe, was born Johnnie Lee Johnson in a house off of Highway 90 on July 8, 1944. His family moved to Mississippi City when he was two. In the 1960s he played drums with many local artists, including Little Charles Wheeler at the Gulf Hills Dude Ranch and other venues, and toured with soul icons Percy Sledge and Otis Redding before joining the Allman Brothers in 1969. In later years he formed Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, performing a blend of rock, jazz, soul and blues primarily in the New York City area.

Henry “Hank” Donahue, recalled by Jaimoe as one of the hottest performers on the coast in the 1960s, was a showman who would jump off the stage and play guitar with a 100-foot cord. Born in Ocean Springs on December 4, 1941, Donahue never achieved widespread musical fame but was composing songs as early as 1959, when he copyrighted the tune “Midnight,” in addition to entertaining at area dances with his group, once known as Henry Donahue and His Nine. He later moved to Florida and recorded several CDs on his own label, Treble Records. He died on October 19, 2013.

Tempy Stuart Smith (March 12, 1884-November 3, 1960), a pianist and music teacher, was hailed for her talents as a performer of classical and sacred music, but also led a jazz band in Ocean Springs that featured her children, who were once billed as the Infant Orchestra. Madame Smith was advertised in the Biloxi Daily Herald in 1921 as “the most accomplished pianist on the Coast.” Madame Smith and her brood relocated to New York City in 1927 and continued to build their impressive resumes in music, either onstage, in films, or in their own music instruction studios. Smith’s daughter Geraldine “Jeri” Smith (1905-1961) staged a “synco-symphonic” concert with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 1945, melding classical tunes with boogie woogie piano. Jeri’s siblings Helena and Joe excelled as dancers at the Apollo Theater and other venues.

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