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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mississippi Blues Trail -- Papa Lightfoot

*Caption: Founder of the Natchez Bluff Blues Festival and Natchez Blues Heritage Association Eric Glatzer and Director of Cultural Heritage Tourism for the City of Natchez Darrell White unveil the Blues Marker at Jack Waite Park on September 4.

While you hear plenty about Blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta and Highways 61 and 49 being the birthplace of the Blues, you don't hear much about Blues music or musicians in Natchez. This is largely due to a tragedy that occurred here in 1940 -- the Rhythm Club fire.

Headlines appeared in newspapers across the country: "212 NEGROES PERISH IN NATCHEZ BLAZE". Click on the link to read about it in depth.

My father was 12 years old at the time, and knew several of the victims.

"I rode my bicycle over there to see what was going on," he said. "The whole town smelled like burned flesh. It was a nightmare."

At any rate, many people believed the tragedy was God's judgment on the evils of music and dancing, and it was thus that for all practical purposes, much of the music as well as people, died in the flames in Natchez that night, at least for a while.

Shortly after the fire, however, The Library of Congress recorded several local Blues and Gospel singers, one of whom was Alexander "Papa George" Lightfoot, who became one of the foremost harmonica players of the post-World War II era. Papa Lightfoot always carried a harmonica in his pocket, and was happy to play at the drop of a suggestion.

And so it was that Friday, September 4, found Shantybellum and friends at Jack Waite Park honoring the late Blues musician when the Mississippi Blues Commission unveiled its latest Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Natchez. Also honored on the marker was Natchez Bluesman Y Z Ealey.

Blues entertainment was provided at the event by the Natchez Bluff Blues Band, featuring Y Z
with Gray Montgomery, Robbie Cloy, Stan Smith, Tommy Polk and Jack Kelly.

*Be sure to click this links in this post. They make for some fun and fascinating reading.

The Mississippi Blues Trail is a project of the Mississippi Blues Commission
Photos, story & videos by Elodie Pritchartt