Next step is a statue to honor city native, organizers say

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Local musician Lucille Ridges, left, speaks with the wife of the late Willie Dixon, Marie Dixon, second from left, while Craig Gibson, right, looks over a CD boxed set insert booklet about Willie Dixon after Monday’s ceremony dedicating a Vicksburg street to the blues legend. Willie Dixon Way links South and Veto streets between Harrah’s parking garage and the Vicksburg Convention Center. (The Vicksburg Post/C. Todd Sherman)

[10/15/02]A passing train blowing its whistle Monday afternoon helped cast the right aura over about 40 people who stood to honor the memory of Willie Dixon.

When the gathering ended, a previously unnamed street between South and Veto streets and a block from Kansas City Southern Railway tracks in Downtown Vicksburg had become Willie Dixon Way.

“This is my first time to dedicate a street,” Mayor Laurence Leyens told those at the ceremony. “And quite frankly, I’m very proud of whom I’m dedicating it to.”

Dixon was born in Vicksburg on July 1, 1915, and grew up on Jackson Street, said David Hughes, local musician and historian who helped organize the street dedication.

Dixon moved to Chicago when he was 17 and, after a brief career as a boxer and run-in with the Army, he became a notable blues songwriter.

“Willie Dixon is the most important bluesman to ever come from Mississippi,” Hughes said. “Dixon is just as important to Vicksburg, in my opinion, as Robert E. Lee is to Vicksburg.”

The Confederate commander-in-chief never visited the state or city. The point, however, of two days of events including a blues concert Sunday, is that Vicksburg should be preserving its musical heritage as aggressively as its Civil War history.

Mrs. Dixon cut the ribbon and thanked the community for honoring her late husband.

“Thank you for sharing in one of the greatest days of my marriage,” she said. “In the 10 years since Willie’s death, I’ve found so much love from people for him that I don’t know if he even knew about,” Dixon said.

The mayor and the Dixon family are trying to raise money for a statue and plaque to be erected on the lawn along the street. Leyens said he envisions making the area a blues memorial park.

The street dedication came after Sunday night’s celebration jam honoring Dixon. About 300 people attended a concert tribute to Dixon at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

Willie Dixon wrote more than 500 songs and performed with artists Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson. His songs include “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Evil,” “Spoonful,” “Little Red Rooster,” “Back Door Man,” “My Babe,” “Pretty Thing,” “You Can’t Judge a Book” and “Wang Dang Doodle.”

He was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Before his death in 1992, he established the Blues Heaven Foundation, which preserves the blues through scholarships, song and lyric royalty education.