By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – Nine Pontotoc musicians were honored Thursday with a Mississippi Blues Marker, located in the heart of Pontotoc on the Court Square.
Terry “Harmonica” Bean, “Baby Face” Leroy Foster, Lee Gates, R.C. Weatherall, Jim Weatherly, “Harmonica” Frank Floyd, Delaney Bramlett, Cordell Jackson and Ruby Elzy are all commemorated on the marker, which includes information and photos about each of the artists.
“This is a way of preserving our history. This is blues-related, but all nine of these artists are unique in their own right,” said Martha Jo Coleman with the Pontotoc Town Square Post Office and Museum and a member of the Pontotoc Historical Society. “But they all have that common musical thread of being from Pontotoc.”
Bean was the only living musician who was able to attend the marker unveiling ceremony, and he thanked the Mississippi Development Authority and Pontotoc for the honor.
“When I say I’m from Pontotoc, nobody ever knows where that is. I say, ‘You know Tupelo? It’s right next door,’” Bean said.
Bean worked in a Pontotoc furniture factory for decades before quitting a few years ago to pursue the blues full time. Now he flies all over the world performing; he just came home to Pontotoc from playing a blues festival in France and will travel soon to perform in Switzerland.
“I’ve been everywhere,” he told the crowd. “I’ll be the first black man on the moon playing the blues.”
Pontotoc Mayor Jeff Stafford said he was thankful for Bean representing Pontotoc well.
“He’s the opposite of (rapper) Lil Wayne. There’s no entourage, no gold chains,” he said. “He never turned his back on us.”
Teresa Keys, niece of bluesman R.C. Weatherall, honored her late uncle at the unveiling.
“We are very proud,” she said. “He would’ve loved to be here, because he did love his music.”
Alex Thomas, program manager for the music trails, said it’s not uncommon for one marker to have so many musicians. Not all of the musicians on the Pontotoc blues marker played the blues – like Cordell Jackson, a rock ’n’ roller nicknamed “Guitar Granny,” or Ruby Elzy, who created the role of Serena in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” – but their styles of music all originated with the blues.
“This is a very distinguished marker,” Thomas said, “and there are a lot of very significant names on it.”
The Pontotoc blues trail marker is the 155th erected, and the next marker goes up in Lexington next week and will honor multiple artists.