Ruby’s Nite Spot

Ruby’s Nite Spot - Leland

Ruby’s Nite Spot, operated at this site by Ruby Edwards, was one of the most prominent blues clubs in the Delta during the 1940s and ‘50s. Edwards booked nationally known acts such as T-Bone Walker, Little Walter, and Little Richard, newcomers Ike Turner and Little Milton, and down-home Delta bluesmen Son Thomas and Eddie Cusic, among many others. Patrons here could dine, drink, dance, and gamble into the wee hours of the morning, long after clubs in nearby Greenville and Indianola had closed.

Ruby’s Nite Spot occupied a unique position among Delta nightclubs not only because of its full and varied slate of blues entertainment but also because of owner Ruby Edwards’ renowned business acumen. Edwards, always determined to please her customers, took full advantage of Leland’s “wide open” policy that allowed gambling extravaganzas and late-hour activities that few towns in Mississippi could match. Gamblers with suitcases full of cash traveled to Leland from all over the South for all-day, all-night “skin balls” that Edwards operated next to the club, often lasting for days at a time. Payoffs to the local sheriff ensured that Edwards could send her daughter Sue or other “runners” across the state line to return with liquor that was illegal during Mississippi’s extended era of prohibition. Crowds of hungry revelers dined on chicken, fish, hamburgers, and hot dogs and danced to the music of the country’s top names in blues as well as an impressive array of local and regional musicians. Ready to market anything that might sell, Edwards made tamales at one time and brewed her own corn liquor at another.

Ruby Edwards, born May 20, 1910, came to Leland from Brandon, Mississippi, with her mother shortly before the 1927 flood. Resolved to go into business for herself, she had opened Ruby’s Nite Spot by World War II. Her children, Terry Keesee, Harold Hall, Sue Carol Hall, and Jimetta Thornton, later began helping out at the club. Among the many national touring acts recalled as performing at Ruby’s were Ray Charles, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Jimmie Lunceford, Big Joe Turner, Gatemouth Brown, Gatemouth Moore, Arthur Prysock, Percy Mayfield, Lowell Fulson, Joe and Jimmy Liggins, and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. The variety of acts at Ruby’s ranged from the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all-female band that originated at Piney Woods, to Delta blues legends Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2, Elmore James, and Honeyboy Edwards to the bands of the Silas Green and Rabbit Foot minstrel shows. To draw crowds, Ruby’s often offered free admission to dances when local bands were performing. Little Milton and Tyrone Davis would both take the stage alone, without backup bands, to practice their acts in the embryonic stages of their careers. Once Milton formed a band, he became a regular at the club, as did Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm from Clarksdale and the Red Tops from Vicksburg. The local blues roster also included Smokey Wilson, Lil’ Bill Wallace, Charlie Booker, Eddie Shaw, L. V. Banks, and Cleanhead Love.

In the mid-1950s Edwards took over the Club Ebony in Indianola, where her daughter Sue met her husband-to-be, B. B. King. Edwards’ son Terry Keesee then operated Ruby’s for a while, as well as the smaller Playhouse nearby. In later years Ruby Edwards ran a grocery store until she retired in the 1970s. She died on New Year’s Day of 2001.

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