By Lena Mitchell
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
RIPLEY – Few Northeast Mississippi cities claim markers on the Mississippi Blues Trail, but the Tippah County Society for the Preservation of the Arts is working to increase that number.
The group has compiled a list of bluesmen from Ripley and sites around the city they believe have the weight of Mississippi blues history to warrant Blues Trail markers.
“Some of us were discussing that some black culture had been abandoned, especially in the arts,” said Ripley native Dr. Roland Colom, who recently returned to his hometown from Columbus, and maintains his dental practice in semi-retirement.
“In the early 2000s we started the Terry Street Festival as an arts preservation event, and we bring in performers – especially local artists in instrumental music, singing, painting, sculpture, dance.”
Society members were lamenting that in the late 1970s and early 1980s when young people began moving into rap and hip-hop music, instead of adding those genres to their historical music roots, they actually left behind blues, jazz, rhythm and blues and other well-loved and familiar music of the generations before them.
“We were looking back at the history of arts in Tippah County, the places of history – juke joints and honky tonks – but our history and culture were alive in those places, so we decided to try to acquire blues markers,” Colom said.
The places Colom, 65, remembers so well begin with a building at the corner of Terry and North Jackson streets next door to his current dental practice, not used for any purpose now, but most recently serving as the home of Care Ministry Holiness Apostolic Church.
“It was the Hole-in-the-Wall,” he recalled, noting that some of the other places where blues music could be heard every week through the 1960s and 1970s have long since been demolished.
The preservation group – which along with Colom includes Mae Carradine, Sylvia Monroe, Amy McKenzie and Colom’s daughter, Nia Colom – has compiled a list of people and places for marker consideration:
• Richard Wade, guitar and piano, Corinth: Rhythm & Blues; Gospel
• Tommy Henry Huey, guitar, Shannon: “The Upsetters”; Hill Country bluesman, credited with inspiring and teaching.
• Willie T. McDonald, guitar (deceased): “The Upsetters”
• Allen Christmas Sr., (1911-2005), promoter and entrepreneur
• Terry Street/Northend area of Ripley: Hole-in-the-Wall; Thurmond Alexander’s Cream Cup/Blue Room; Jeff Clemmer’s Place
• West Walnut/Ravine area: Josie Booth’s Place (1950s-1960s); Bama Bell’s (1950s-1960s); Foster’s Center (1960s-Present)
• Downtown Ripley: Booth-Simelton Place (1950s-1970s); Quinon Simmons (1950s-1970s); Dew Drop Inn/Watering Hole, Off the Square
These venues were places where widely-known blues artists like Little Johnny Taylor, Bobby Rush, Bobby Blue Bland and Little Milton were regular performers, as well as local artists like McDonald (Willie T-Mac and the Upsetters), Wade and Huey were booked by Christmas and other business owners.
The Mississippi Blues Commission meets twice a year to evaluate applications for markers, and the Tippah County preservation group is working on its initial application to be submitted for the next round of consideration.
“These artists and places were influential in promotion of the blues,” Colom said, “and we want to be sure their place in history is remembered.”