CLARKSDALE – Charismatic entertainer Bobby Rush and his stable of dancers have been booked for the Saturday night stage of Sunflower River Blues Festival 2000, according to Nat McMullen and Melville Tillis, festival co-chairman. The two confirm that negotiations with a second celebrity through the Isle of Capri Casino are under way for the August 11-13 event.
McMullen and Tillis reported recently the casino had agreed to book and underwrite the cost of the 13th annual festival’s Saturday night major headliners.
“We’re thrilled to death,” commented Madge Vance, festival marketing director. Vance, Tillis, and McMullen were among members of the Blues Association’s fund-raising committee meeting with Les McMackin, new general manager of the Isle of Capri, formerly Lady Luck Casino, and Penny Franklin, casino marketing director.
“Basically, Mr. McMackin said the casino wanted to support the festival and to be involved more than just writing a check,” McMullen reported to association members at their recent meeting. “In the future he wants to help sponsor fund-raising events for the festival all during the year.”
Already booked to headline the Friday night stage, Aug. 11, is Big Jack Johnson. Others appearing include O.B. Buchana, Robert “Bilbo” Walker, Cedell Davis, Arthniece Jones, J.B. and the Midnighters, Dr. Mike and the Interns and others.
Other entertainers scheduled for Saturday night include Anson Funderburg and the Rockets with Sam Myers, Arthur Lee Williams, and the House Rockers.
Following Saturday morning’s acoustic blues stage in Clarksdale Station, Othar Turner and the Rising Sun Drum and Fife Corps will lead a procession to the main stage Saturday afternoon. Acoustic musicians include Eddie Cusic, Pat Thomas, both of Leland; John Mohead of Moon Lake; the Afro-Blues Griots of Holly Springs, Jimmy Holmes of Bentonia who plays in the style of the late Jack Owen, and John Weston of Helena.
The Sunday afternoon, Aug. 13, gospel stage will feature James Williams and the Victory Travelers, The Myles Family and Patricia Branch, The 300-member Clarksdale Elementary School Children’s Mass Choir, the Sensational Voices of Hope, the Sons of Wonder, Evg. Carolyn and the Spiritual Stars.
The annual three-day free event is scheduled Aug. 11 – 13 at the downtown Blues Alley stage. The acoustic stage will be held in the large performance space in Clarksdale Station, the renovated passenger depot where Muddy Waters bought his ticket for Chicago. The 13th festival is being dedicated to the late Frank Frost, Wade Walton, Early Wright, and Little Jeno Tucker, music figures who imprinted their personal stamps each year on the event.
Harmonica and keyboard master Frost, a member of the famous Jelly Roll Kings along with drummer Sam Carr and guitarist Big Jack Johnson, died in October 1999. An internationally, renowned musician, Frost was propelled into prominence with the movie, “Crossroads,” and performed each year at the Sunflower River Fest.
Clarksdale’s famous barber/bluesman Wade Walton, who died in January 2000 at age 76, played both harmonica and guitar and drew an international audience when his album, “Shake ‘em on Down,” was recorded in New Jersey on the Bluesville label in 1958 and was widely distributed in Europe. Mr. Walton, who played blues with Muddy Waters, Ike Turner and Frank Frost was a renowned storyteller and an activitist in Mississippi’s early civil rights movement with Dr. Aaron Henry and Medgar Evers.
Legendary radio personality, Early Wright, “The Soul Man” of WROX radio, who became Mississippi’s first black disc jockey in 1947, died in December 1999 at age 84 following a massive heart attack. In his 51-year career Mr. Wright interviewed and played recordings of hundreds of musicians including Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Bobby Rush, Ike and Tina Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, Little Milton, Pinetop Perkins, Rufus Thomas, Charley Pride and others. In 1990 the Sunflower River Blues Association established the Early Wright Blues Heritage Award in his honor. It is presented annually to an individual who follows Mr. Wright’s example in preserving, promoting, perpetuating and documenting blues.
Little Jeno Tucker, who was born in Bolton and began his singing career performing in talent shows at the Alamo Theatre on Farish Street in Jackson, has been a key figure on the blues scene in Clarksdale for over a decade. A member of the Sunflower River Blues Association and a regular performer at its blues festival, he died suddenly of a heart attack June 13. He was 59. He was founder of the J.T. Express showcasing talents of blues education students including his son, Artrell Earl who played in the White House May 10 for the Mississippi Delta Conference.
Members of the Frost, Tucker, Walton and Wright families will be honored on stage during the 2000 festival, and are being invited to participate in the festival’s annual education program.
“All four have made tremendous contributions to our association and have helped make our festival special,” Melville Tillis, association co-chairman commented. Co-chairman Nat McMullen labels the quartet “treasures” and says the dedication is a fitting tribute.
Volunteers, new members and donations are being solicited to help with the August festival which draws thousands to Clarksdale from many sections of the U.S., Europe and Asia.
The association is a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization, and donations are tax deductible. Admission to the festival is free thanks to grants and contributions from corporations, businesses and individuals. It is sponsored in part by the grants from Mississippi Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts and Coahoma County Tourism Commission. Donations may be sent to the Sunflower River Blues Association, Box 1562, Clarksdale, MS 38614.