Red Tops original ‘Jimmy’ Bosley dies at 96

Published 12:05 pm Monday, February 14, 2011

James Leonard “Jimmy” Bosley, an original member of the famed Vicksburg group the Red Tops, is being remembered today as a man of music, faith and moral courage.

Bosley died Thursday morning, Feb. 10, 2011, at 96 at Shady Lawn Nursing Home.

As a member of the Red Tops in the 1950s and 1960s, Bosley was part of a group that bridged segregation, playing to audiences made up of blacks and whites at a time of Jim Crow laws and strict segregation.

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“He was a very passionate person about music as well as a practitioner of music,” his son, James M. Bosley, said today. “He passed his music on to the next generation. He taught me to play the trumpet, which enabled me to get a four-year scholarship that paid my way through school.”

His father was very loyal to his family, James Bosley said, especially to his wife, Dellora, to whom he was married for 70 years.

Bosley was a longtime employee of O’Neil-McNamara Hardware, where he drove a truck, his son said.

Dorwin Shields, a longtime friend and deacon at Pleasant Green Baptist Church where Bosley was a lifelong member, said Bosley carried his music into ministry.

“He was very accommodating,” Shields said. “He had a good nature. He was always willing to help in our church.”

Bosley was also willing to confront difficulties in support of justice, with his wife being among those at Pleasant Green who voted to bring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at the church in the face of threats and intimidation.

“He said, ‘If they burn the church down, we’re going to build it right back up again, but he’s going to come,’” Shields said.

“Given the times, normally it was one spouse or the other who would be vocal and visible, and the other would not,” James Bosley said. “My father supported the effort and was exposed to the public a great deal by his making a choice to be visible and vocal in civil rights. It would have jeopardized him in his work, driving a truck throughout Mississippi, as well as his career with the Red Tops, playing for white audiences.”

The death leaves Rufus McKay and Willard Tyler as the last surviving members of the Red Tops.

A graduate of Magnolia School, Bosley was especially infuenced by music teacher William Greene.

“His early love of music was impressed upon him by Professor Greene,” James Bosley said. “He was his mentor and had a tremendous impact upon him.”

The Mississippi Blues Trail marker honoring the Red Tops, stands on Clay Street outside the BB Club, where the Red Tops performed for many years in the 1950s and 1960s. The group’s marker was unveiled in May 2008, and Bosley, McKay and Louis Spencer Jr. were on hand.

At the time, the Red Tops was the first band to be honored with a Blues Trail marker. Others had been dedicated to individual performers or blues establishments.

In addition to his son, Bosley leaves a daughter, Perez Gaines of Vicksburg and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

His funeral, set for Saturday, is being handled by William H. Jefferson Funeral Home.