Blues marker unveiling set here for Thursday
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 10, 2009
What has been memorialized many times in song will now be memorialized in something more tangible, as the Mississippi Blues Commission places its 64th Blues Trail marker at Washington and Jackson streets in honor of the southern portion of U.S. 61.
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A Mississippi Blues Trail marker commemorating U.S. 61, “America’s Blues Highway,” will be unveiled Thursday at 11 a.m. at the corner of Washington and Jackson streets.
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The unveiling ceremony will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at the site.
Known as America’s Blues Highway, U.S. 61 runs 1,400 miles from New Orleans to Wyoming, Minn. It’s been the inspiration for songs by blues artists including Sunnyland Slim, Big Joe Williams and Charlie Musselwhite; the source of musical legend — Robert Johnson famously sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads of highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale; and the setting for Bob Dylan’s 1965 song and album, “Highway 61 Revisited.”
The highway also was the backbone of areas where blues artists such as Charlie Patton, Johnson and Willie Dixon grew up.
Vicksburg native Dixon, a bassist, singer and songwriter, was honored in June 2007 with his own Blues Trail marker on Willie Dixon Drive near the Vicksburg Convention Center. Dixon left Vicksburg for Chicago in 1936 and was instrumental in the development of the Chicago blues.
Bill Seratt, director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, said representatives from the Mississippi Development Authority tourism office and Blues Trail commissioners are expected to attend the unveiling, which is expected to last about 30 minutes. The public is invited.
The marker is the third of four planned for the city. In addition to Dixon’s marker, the Red Tops, the popular all-black band that entertained both black and white audiences in Vicksburg during the strict segregation days of the 1950s and 1960s, were also honored with a marker in front of the BB Club on Clay Street a year ago.
Markers are made of cast aluminum, with raised gold letters on a field of blue on one side, and an adhesive graphic panel on the reverse with text, maps and photographs detailing the accomplishments of the artist, group or region being memorialized.
In announcing the latest addition to the Mississippi Blues Trail, Seratt pointed out the highway’s importance in the history of the country’s interstate road system in addition to its musical influence.
Originally a gravel road, U.S. 61 south of Vicksburg was one of the first sections of the road to be paved with concrete, Seratt said. As agriculture became more mechanized, many blacks traveled the road leaving the South to pursue jobs in the industrial North.
The fourth Vicksburg marker will be unveiled later this summer. It will honor Marcus Bottom, an area known for its many blues clubs. “A lot of the early blues performers played at clubs at Marcus Bottom,” Seratt said.
The Mississippi Blues Commission is a group of 18 appointed members representing organizations and geographic areas of the state. It is directed by Alex Thomas of the Mississippi Development Authority Tourism Division.
The commission was formed in 2003 to recognize the contributions of Mississippi artists and locations in the development of the American musical form. More than 120 markers are planned at interpretive sites throughout the state, according to its Web site, msbluestrail.org.
Grants have been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration, with additional support for each marker coming from the MDA Tourism Division, Delta State University and local communities.
Contact Pamela Hitchins at firstname.lastname@example.org.