Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Life & Times of Memphis Minnie

Written based on research compilations by Angela Lucius

I have always loved Blues Music, especially from artists that were 
born in or lived in Mississippi.

Memphis Minnie was one of the most influential women of the day 
when it came to singing a good Blues song. She was born Lizzie 
Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana on June 3, 1897. She 
was the eldest of thirteen siblings born to Abe and Gertrude Douglas, 
who nicknamed her Kid when she was just a little tyke.
When she was 7 years old she and her family moved to Walls, 
Mississippi, a tiny town located South of Memphis where they had a 
farm. The following year she received her first guitar for 
Christmas. She learned to play the banjo by the age of 10 and the 
guitar by the age of 11, when she started playing local parties. 
When she first began performing she played under the 
name Kid Douglas, because she did not like being called Lizzie.
The family later moved to Brunswick, Tennessee, but after Minnie's
mother died in 1922, her father moved back to Walls, Ms, where he 
died thirteen years later in 1935.
In 1910, at the age of 13, she ran away from her home to live on Beale 
Street in Memphis, Tennessee to play for tips at Church's Park 
( the current W.C. Handy Park)She played on street corners for most
of her teenage years, although she would periodically return to her 
family's farm in Walls when she ran out of money. Her sidewalk 
performances on Beale Street led to a four year tour of the South with 
the Ringling Brothers Circus from 1916 to 1920, at which time she 
returned to the Memphis Beale Street scene.
At the time, women were highly valued-along with whiskey and cocaine-and Beale Street was one of the first places in the country where women 
could perform in public. In order to survive financially, most of the female 
performers on Beale Street were also prostitutes, and Minnie was no 
exception. She received $12 for her services an outrageous fee for the time.
Minnie was suspected to have been married three times. Although no 
evidence has been found of any marriage certificates, her first husband is 
usually said to have been Will Weldon who she married in the early 1920s, 
also known as Casey Bill. 

However, some historians claim the two didn't meet until their first 
recording sessions together in 1935 and never married. If she did 
marry Weldon, she had left him within the decade.

Her second husband or some say common law husband, was guitarist 
and mandolin player 
Joe McCoy (aka Kansas Joe McCoy) whom she supposedly married 
in 1929. She and Kansas Joe McCoy began to perform together. 
They were discovered by a talent scout of Columbia Records in front 
of a barber shop where they were playing for dimes. They went to 
New York City for their first recording sessions, and it was then that she 
changed her name to Memphis MinnieIn 1930, Minnie released one of
 her favorite songs "Bumble Bee," which led to a recording contract with 
the Vocalion labelThe couple continued to produce records for 
Vocalion for two more years, then left the label and decided to move to 
Chicago. It didn't take long before Minnie and McCoy had become a part 
of the city's blues scene, and they had introduced country blues into an 
urban environment.
McCoy and Minnie recorded songs together and on their own for Decca 
Records until they divorced in 1934. According to several reports, 
McCoy's increasing jealousy of Minnie's fame and success caused the
breakup. The two-part single "You Got To Move (You Ain't Got To 
Move)" was the last record issued by the couple." 
Minnie was also reported to have lived with a man known as "Squirrel" 
in the mid- to late 1930s, although I was unable to verify this.
Back on her own, Minnie began to experiment with different styles and 
sounds. She recorded four sides for the Bluebird label in 1935 under the 
name Texas Tessie. They included "Good Mornin'," "You Wrecked My 
Happy Home," "I'm Waiting on You," and "Keep on Goin'." In August of 
that year, she returned to the Vocalion label to record two songs in tribute 
to boxing champion Joe Louis: "He's in the Ring (Doing That Same Old 
Thing" and "Joe Louis Strut." Columbia later released "He's in the Ring" 
on the collection The Great Depression: American Music in the '30s in 1994.
Top row: Ernest (Little Son Joe) Lawlars, Bill (with guitar), Lester Melrose,
 Roosevelt Sykes, St. Louis Jimmy Oden;

In 1939, she met guitarist Earnest Lawlars (aka Little Son Joe). 
He became her new musical partner and they married shortly thereafter. 
Son Joe dedicated songs to her including "Key to The World" in which 
he addresses her as "the woman I got now" and calls her "the key to the 
Minnie and Little Son Joe also began to release material on Okeh 
Records in the 1940s. Their earliest recordings together included 
"Nothin' in Ramblin'" and "Me and My Chauffeur Blues."The couple 
continued to record together throughout the decade. In 1952, Minnie 
recorded a session for the legendary Chess label, when it was just
two months old. Singles from the session included "Broken Heart
and a rerecording of "Me and My Chauffeur Blues." The
following year, she released her last commercial recording after 24 
years in blues music, 
"Kissing in the Dark" and "World of Trouble" on the JOB label.
Later in the 1940s Minnie lived in Indianapolis, Indiana and Detroit, 
Michigan, returning to Chicago in the early 1950s.
However, poor health prompted her to return to Memphis and forsake
the musician's life in 1958. She performed one last time at a memorial 
for her friend, blues artist Big Bill Broozny in 1958. Periodically, she would 
appear on Memphis radio stations to encourage younger blues musicians. 
As the Garons wrote in Woman with Guitar, "She never laid her guitar 
down, until she could literally no longer pick it up." 
In 1960, Minnie suffered from a stroke and was bound to a wheelchair. 
The following year, Little Son Joe passed away. The trauma provoked 
Minnie to have a second stroke.

By the mid1960s Minnie had entered the Jell Nursing Home and she 
could no longer survive on her social security income. The news of her
plight began to spread, and magazines such as Living Blues and 
Blues Unlimited appealed to their readers for assistance. 
Many fans quickly sent money for her care, and several musicians held 
benefits to help her. On August 6, 1973, Memphis Minnie died of a 
stroke in the nursing home. In true blues fashion, she was buried in an 
unmarked grave at the New Hope Cemetery in Memphis, Tn.  

A headstone paid for by Bonnie Raitt was erected by the Mt. Zion 
Memorial Fund on October 13,1996 with 35 family members in 
attendance including her sister, numerous nieces (including Laverne 
Baker) and nephews. The ceremony was taped for broadcast by the BBC.

Her headstone is marked:
Lizzie "Kid" Douglas Lawlers
aka Memphis Minnie

The inscription on the back of her gravestone reads:

"The hundreds of sides Minnie recorded are the perfect material 
to teach us about the blues. For the blues are at once general, 
and particular, speaking for millions, but in a highly 
singular, individual voice. Listening to Minnie's songs we hear her
fantasies, her dreams, her desires, but we will hear them as if they 
were our own"

For nearly three decades, Memphis Minnie was one of the most 
influential blues artists in the United States. From the early 1920s 
until she retired in the mid1950s, she released more than 180 songs, 
in addition to those released after her death in 1973. 
She cemented her place in blues history with such classics as 
"Bumble Bee," "Hoodoo Lady," and "I Want Something for You." 
Her repertoire included country blues, urban blues, the Melrose sound, 
Chicago blues, and postwar blues.
In 1980, Memphis Minnie was one of the first 20 artists inducted into 
the Blues Hall of Fame. Her work was featured on several blues 
compilations throughout the 1980s and 1990s. 
Compilations of her own work also continued to surface, including
 I Ain't No Bad Girl in 1989 and Queen of the Blues in 1997.

The home she once lived in still exists at 1355 Adelaide Street 
in Memphis, Tennessee.

Listen to Memphis Minnie courtesy of Youtube

Garon, Paul and Beth, Woman with Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues , Da Capo Press, New York, 1992.
American Heritage , September 1994.
Down Beat , May 1995; March 1998.
High Fidelity , April 1989. (September 23, 1998). (September 23, 1998).
Harris, S (1989). Blues Who’s Who, 5th paperback edition. New York: Da Capo Press.
Gravestone Photo courtesy of Thomas R. Machnitzki
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Memphis Minnie.
Listen to "When the Levee Breaks" at the "Internet Archive" (
Delta Blues Bio and Samples of "Bumble Bee Blues" and "Soo Cow Soo"
Find A Grave Memorial
Mount Zion memorial Fund
Sonya Shelton Kansas Joe McCoy photo

I'm Back !!!

Hello Everyone,  I apologize that I have not posted anything new in a while, however I am finally back to blogging after some time off and hopefully will have some new things to share with you very soon. I hope you will continue to follow and will enjoy some new posts very shortly. Thank you all for all the comments recently that I have received from readers of my older posts. I look forward to writing some new articles very soon. In the mean time I would also like to invite you to check out my new Twizted Twigs Poetry and Short Story blog on wordpress.  where I have been posting some of my poetry, stories and book publishing updates. Have a great day and I look forward to being back in the cemetery blogging world very soon :)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Old, abandoned black cemetery center of controversy

Old, abandoned black cemetery center of controversy

By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item Picayune Item Fri Apr 08, 2011, 08:37 AM CDT

CARRIERE — A controversy involving an abandoned black cemetery more than 100 years old here has wound up in Pearl River County Justice Court.

Access to the cemetery, in the center of Stone Bridge subdivision, has become the center of the controversy.

The dispute has resulted in the subdivision’s security officer, who also lives in the subdivision, filing an affidavit in Justice Court, charging another Carriere resident with trespassing and desecrating the cemetery.

The dispute revolves around who has access to the cemetery. To Read the Full article click the title link above.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Anderson Cemetery Byhalia, Ms.

Recently I was on my way to the Byhalia Cemetery to take some headstone photographs for my FindAGrave project, I just happened to look up at the right moment and noticed a headstone through the bushes, from the Hwy. Not seeing a driveway to the area, I pulled over at the neighbors house and asked the gentleman who was out in the driveway if it was a private cemetery. He didn't seem to know much about it other than that it was an African American graveyard. But he was gracious enough to allow me to park in his driveway and walk up thru the wooded trail to the cemetery, so that I could photograph the headstones.
The Anderson Cemetery is located on Old Hwy 178 about a mile east of Byhalia, Ms in Marshall County. It sits in a small clearing on top of the hill, just west of the intersection of Quinn Mills Rd and Edwards Rd which cross Hwy 178.
Approx. GPS Coordinates: Lat. 34.86829/ Lon.89.66964 .
There were 9 names memorialized in the small clearing and what looked like at least 2 unmarked graves, where the ground had started to sink. I have set up memorial pages and added the cemetery to the FindA Grave memorial website.
I have not yet had a chance to research the history of this little cemetery, but if you have any information about it that you would like to share or add to the memorials on FindAgrave, you can click on the links below each photo to view the individual memorials and send the information to me and I can either add the information for you or if you are a family member and have a FindAGrave account, I will transfer the memorial to you and you can add any information you wish to add. I had some problems with posting some of the photos, blogger is not cooperating with me today, but you can click the link and see the headstone photo as they are all posted on the FindAGrave memorials.

Sept 20 1955- Jan 18 2001

Oct 8 1877- July 1 1946
Sep 10 1870- Jan 13 1944

Mar 24 1898- May 5 1975
Nov 1 1895- June 19 1984

Photo on Findagrave
Moses F Watson
Feb 3 1891- July 9 1967
Photo on Findagrave
Mar 24, 1893- Dec 21- 1980

Nov 9 ?- Dec 8?

Dec 31 1933- July 31 2000

Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring Cleaning At Old Philadelphia April 2011

The Mississippi Society of Paranormal Investigators will host their annual Spring Clean-up project at the Old Philadelphia Presbyterian Cemetery in Red Banks Ms. Marshall County, on Saturday and Sunday April 16th & 17th 2011. Volunteers from the group will be raking leaves, cutting brush and clearing some fallen tree limbs . MSSPI adopted the Historic Cemetery in 2009 to assist the cemetery owner, Mr Roy Hendrix, an attorney from Memphis Tn. in an attempt to maintain the pre-civil war cemetery. Mr Hendrix is a direct decendent of the original owner of the property who donated the cemetery to the Old Brick Methodist Church which has since been moved to another location in Red Banks. He has donated over $10,000 out of his own pocket to maintain the cemetery over the years, but now in his 80's he is physically unable to maintain it himself. This cleanup project is an ongoing effort as the cemetery is located in a rural location and while rarely visited, thick growth, falling limbs and leaves occur every year and must be maintained. Last years efforts were stalled by bad weather and limited volunteers , so we are hoping that Mother Nature will work with us this year.

You can read about the history of the Old Phil Cemetery on our main website or in a previous post I have done about the cemetery in this blogs archives.

If you would like to help out or contribute to the clean-up efforts at Old Philadelphia, please contact me via email at for more information.