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Mississippi Blues Trail marker, view01, Riverside Hotel, 615 Sunflower Ave, Clarksdale, MS, USA | by lumierefl
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Mississippi Blues Trail marker, view01, Riverside Hotel, 615 Sunflower Ave, Clarksdale, MS, USA

Clarksdale, est. 1848, pop. 17,962

 

full text of marker here

 

• built as 8-room G.T. Thomas Hospital for African Americans • adaptive reuse as 21-room Riverside Hotel, originally men-only, 1944 • designed by Z.L. "Momma" (Ratliff) Hill, longtime owner & proprietor • Momma Hill took in a young Ike Turner after his widowed mother suffered a nervous breakdown • designed dresses for Turner's background singers, The Ikettes • died, 1997 • son Frank "Rat" Ratliff & wife Joyce took over hotel

 

• during 70s "Rat" managed Subway Lounge, popular blues joint in Riverside basement • in later years was recipient of Sunfower River Festival's Early Wright Blues Heritage Award, 2003, and Juke Joint Festival's Miss Sarah Award, 2013 • daughter, Zelena "Zee" Ratliff, took over after Frank's death, 2013 -Rat Pack St Louis

 

• Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Ike Turner & Robert Nighthawk all lived here • hotel is airconditioned, doesn't take credit cards, has no in-room Internet, cable TV, phones or private bathrooms • dressers & bed frames all original • provided comfortable lodging for traveling African American bluesmen who had few choices in mid-century South, and just one in Clarksdale

 

• now a preferred destination of blues fans • rooms named for Sam Cooke, Pops Staples, John Lee Hooker, Rev. Martin Luther King, Bessie Smith • other notable guests: John F. Kennedy Jr., Blind Boys of Alabama, Duke Ellington, Rev. C. L. Franklin, Howlin' Wolf, Joe May, Peck Curtis, Joe Willie Wilkins, Raymond Hill

 

If I put new furniture or change the rooms, it would not appear to be the place the musicians stayed. That’s the way the building was built. It stays like that. If I change it, I might as well close them doors because people want it that way. -Frank Ratliff, Edge Boston

 

• video: The Riverside Hotel (6:11) • Riverside Hotel, Clarksdale Institution, Celebrates Hospitality and Music -Huffington PostSleeping with Muddy Waters -Black Cat Bone & Mojo: Finding the Blues • Frank "Rat" Ratliff obituary • Clarksdale Historic District, National Register 09000763, 2009 • Coahoma County designated part of Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, 2009

 

• Clarksdale-born Ike Turner rehearsed his band & recorded demos at the Riverside • their landmark song "Rocket 88" was credited to Jackie Brenston (1930-1979) and his Delta Cats, who were actually Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm with Turner on piano

 

• versions of song's origins have Brenston as writer or Ike Turner writing the song with or without Brenston, either at the Riverside Hotel and/or on the road: We started writing the song in the car. By the time we got to Memphis, we was almost finished writing it, and we finished writing it in the studio. It took me 10 or 15 minutes to put the music together. - Ike Turner, We Like Ike, 2001

 

• produced by Sam Phillips (1923-2003), Memphis Recording Service • released by Chess Records, Chicago, Chess 1458, 03-05-51 • Phillips claimed "Rocket 88" first ever rock 'n roll record • others hold differing opinions • Brenston said song based on 1947 Jimmy Liggins hit, Cadillac Boogie (2:39): If you listen to the two songs, you'll find out they're both basically the same. The words are just changed.original recording of "Rocket 88" (02:54) • also influenced by Pete Johnson's 1949 Rocket Boogie 88 (2:32), named for newly launched Oldsmobile Rocket 88 automobile

 

• Ike Turner (1931-2007) bio -Gibson USA • Ike Turner, aka Icky Rennut, Lover Boy, in WikipediaThe History of Rock 'N' Roll in 25 Songs -Hunter Schwarz, rhombusThe Number One "Rocket 88 -Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

 

• 26 Sep, 1937, "Empress of the Blues" Bessie Smith (1894-1937), died in Ward 1 of G.T. Thomas Hospital, now Riverside Hotel's Rm 2 • the 5'9"/200 lb. artist's career had been in decline, her popularity having crested c. 1929 • in midst of a comeback, was featured performer in E. S. Winstead's touring tent-show, Broadway Rastus • listen: I'm Wild About that Thing, 1929 (2:50)

 

• in early AM, she had been en route to a performance in Darling, MS when critically injured in a car crash • 10 mi. N of Clarksdale on Hwy. 61, her old wood-framed Packard collided with a slow-moving truck • at the wheel was her lover, Richard Morgan, ex-bootlegger associated with Al Capone & uncle of jazz musician Lionel Hampton • Morgan uninjured • truck driver fled scene

 

• white surgeon Dr. Hugh Smith & fishing buddy Henry Broughton soon came upon wreck • Dr. Smith attended Bessie; Broughton set out to call for ambulance • the patient went into shock; Dr. Smith decided to drive her to Clarksdale himself • before he could move the unconscious singer to his parked vehicle, a car crashed into it • driver and passenger injured • an ambulance & a hearse finally arrived, almost simultaneously, one responding to Broughton's call, the other to truck driver's.

 

• 11 Nov, 1937, Down Beat magazine ran story by John Hammond (1910-1987), crusader for racial equality & Bessie's record producer • claimed she died in Memphis of blood loss after whites-only hospital refused to treat her • no evidence to support story • local ambulance crew would know not to try white hospital: See, they didn’t send no ambulance to get a colored person in those days. Just a hearse so they wouldn’t have to make two trips if the person just happened to die on the way to the hospital. After Bessie died, newspaper up North said she was refused at the white hospital, but that makes no sense. -"Rat" Ratliff (told to John Rogers, 2012)

 

• African American hearse driver Willie George Miller rushed Bessie Smith to (black) G.T. Thomas Hospital where her arm was amputated • she died, hours later, at 11:30 AM • nevertheless, the counterfactual story blaming Smith's death on racism went viral, reiterated by news & entertainment media, e.g., Edward Albee's 1960 play, The Death of Bessie Smith • the myth continues to circulate

 

• Dr. Hugh Smith's 1971 eyewitness account of accident, audio (43:01) • video: Blues Legend Bessie Smith's only film appearance, 1929 2-reel short, St. Louis Blues (15:47) — singing begins at 6:49 • The Death of Bessie Smith by Chris Albertson, author of 1972 bio, BessieWho Killed Bessie Smith? -American Blues Scene • Chris Albertson interview -Jerry Jazz Musician

 

Broadway Rastus, Bessie Smith's last engagement, was vaudeville review created in 1915 by black actor/writer/producer/director Irwin C. Miller (1884-1975) • lead character Rastus "Broadway" King, always scheming to make easy money, played by Miller in blackface • versions of show ran through 1928, occasionally performed for white audiences

 

"They proved that that a first-class colored show can get by in the South. The people are good-looking and young, have good wardrobe on and off, and their ability is second to none; in fact the company could give pointers to many attractions that have played the city this season. The show is in two acts and sixteen scenes, all of which is provided with especially-bui)t scenery. A cast of forty people makes up the company, and it includes... Irvin C. Miller himself." -A. Jackson, 1921 review of Broadway Rastus New Orleans performance in Billboard magazine

 

Broadway Rastus purchased by Fayetteville, NC producer Emerson Stowe Winstead (1893-1943), owner of Winstead's Mighty Minstrels (1931-1955) • performers from show appeared in 1947 film, Pitch a Boogie Woogieposter • video: The Making Of... (58:47) — movie begins at 16:22 • list of entertainers who appeared in blackface

 

• Bessie Smith performed in Winstead's minstrel show in early 30s • returned to star in his fateful 1937 edition of Broadway Rastus • contract said to have been for $700/wk + 5% of gate

 

• 7000 fans attended Bessie Smith's funeral • though she had been highest paid black enterainer of the day, estranged husband, security guard Jack Gee, said to have allowed grave to go unmarked • in 1970, singer Janis Joplin — who idolized Smith — partnered with an NAACP official to provide a tombstone

 

They say Bessie died because no hospital would take her, but that’s not right at all. They brought her here, right here, laid her up in the front room of the hospital. -Frank "Rat" Ratliff (1943 - 2013)

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Taken on May 1, 2014