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Marker Salutes History Black Music On Main Street



Jackson, Mississippi  – The Mississippi Blues Trail will unveil its second marker on the Gulf Coast at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 27, at the corner of Main and Murray Streets in Biloxi. The marker, entitled “Biloxi Blues,” will salute the long history of African American music on Main Street in addition to spotlighting pioneering figures Jelly Roll Morton, Bill Johnson and others.

"The Mississippi Gulf Coast played a vital role in shaping the blues, and I'm glad we can honor those musicians who contributed to our state's musical heritage," Governor Barbour said.

Future markers are anticipated in Bay St. Louis, North Gulfport and Jackson County. The first coastal marker, honoring blues radio in Mississippi, is located at the headquarters of the American Blues Network in Gulfport.

The Mississippi Coast – long a destination for pleasure seekers, tourists and gamblers as well as maritime workers and armed services personnel – developed a flourishing nightlife during the segregation era. While most venues were reserved for whites, the stretch of Main Street between Division Street and the railroad catered to the African American community. Especially during the boom years during and after World War II, when the population surged with thousands of incoming workers to fill the new job market, dozens of clubs and cafes rocked to the sounds of blues, jazz and rhythm & blues. Situated along the Gulf Coast performing circuit, Biloxi was a stopping point for traveling bands and musical revues, and in particular for musicians from New Orleans. Jazz pioneers Jelly Roll Morton and Bill Johnson stayed in Biloxi in the early 1900s before relocating to the West Coast. Morton’s seminal recordings, compositions and recollections form much of the basis of what is known about the early days of jazz and blues, while Johnson’s famous touring unit, The Creole Band, introduced the music to audiences all across the country.

The concentration of entertainment venues on Main Street featured traveling acts and local bands, as well as jukeboxes and slot machines. Among the many clubs on the street were The Little Apple, The Big Apple, The Shalimar, Beck’s Desire, the Blue Note and Jackson’s Casino. Veteran blues and R&B producer-songwriter Sax Kari was one of several entrepreneurs who operated record stores on the street. Airmen from Keesler Field participated in the Biloxi scene both as audience members and musicians. Paul Gayten, a noted blues and R&B recording artist and producer in New Orleans and California, directed the band at Keesler during World War II, and singer-pianist Billy “The Kid” Emerson, who recorded for the legendary Sun Label in Memphis, served at Keesler Air Force Base in the 1950s. In fact, both Gayten and Emerson were married in Biloxi. Local musicians active in Biloxi area clubs in later years include Charles Fairley, Cozy Corley, Skin Williams, and bands such as the Kings of Soul, Sounds of Soul, and Carl Gates and the Decks.

The Mississippi Blues Trail is still seeking more historical information and photographs related to music on the Gulf Coast. Anyone who has material is invited to contact research director Jim O’Neal (a Biloxi resident in his childhood) at bluesoterica@aol.com or 816.931.0383.

The Mississippi Blues Trail is a museum without walls taking visitors on a musical history journey through Mississippi. The trail started with the first official marker in Holly Ridge, the resting place of the blues guitarist Charley Patton. The trail winds its way to sites honoring B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Son House and more.

For more information about the Mississippi Blues Trail, visit www.msbluestrail.org or explore the official Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Web site, www.visitmississippi.org. You may also contact Alex Thomas, MDA’s Music Development program manager at 601.359.3297 or athomas@mississippi.org.

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Mississippi Development Authority, 501 N. West Street, Jackson, MS 39201 United States



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