This Week's Featured Marker:
W. C. Handy Encounters the Blues
The dedication of the Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Tutwiler on Nov. 25, 2009, brought together a unique aggregation of local and out-of-town participants, as a special guest who helped embed the blues in the framework of rock ‘n’ roll played a major role in honoring two earlier blues figures who had also helped the blues cross boundaries in their respective eras. The guest, Robert Plant, reminisced about the influence of Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) when Plant was a teenager in England; Plant, of course, went on to found Led Zeppelin, the supergroup that introduced new generations of rock listeners to the blues via their covers of songs by Sonny Boy, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and others. The Tutwiler marker honors Williamson, who is buried about two miles from town, and W.C. Handy, whose encounter with a blues guitarist at the Tutwiler train station (c. 1903) set him on his way to earning the title “Father of the Blues” as a pioneer in publishing the blues in sheet music form. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” ranks among the most-recorded songs of all time, in any genre.
Local officials took pride in Tutwiler’s place in blues history and Mississippi State Senator David Jordan reminded the local “Bible thumpers” of their connections to the blues. Panny Mayfield, a former Tutwiler resident, arranged for Plant’s participation in sponsoring the marker. His appearance was kept hush-hush so as not to overwhelm Tutwiler with hordes of Led Zeppelinites, so festivities remained pleasantly low-key. Many of the older residents in attendance had no idea who he was, in fact, although they did know the people pictured on the marker, including Tutwiler musicians Tom Dumas and Lee Kizart, as well as Sonny Boy. Plant took time for interviews and conversations with media and fans. He recalled Sonny Boy’s stays in England, talked about his fascination with the Delta and with its blues artists, including Rube Lacy and Tommy McClennan, and mentioned that Led Zeppelin once had chances to purchase the Chess, Sun, and Vee-Jay labels – he and Jimmy Page wanted to do it, but the other band members weren’t interested. Local blues aficionado Johnny Jennings also had some interesting stories to tell about meeting Sonny Boy in Tutwiler.
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