CLARKSDALE – Heirs of the crossroads and the world’s most famous blues legend were special guests during the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival Aug. 12-13.
“We are honored to welcome Claud and Steve Johnson, the son and grandson of Robert Johnson, to Clarksdale Saturday night during our award presentation,” commented Melville Tillis, festival co-chairman.
Clarksdale Mayor Henry Espy presented a symbolic key to the city to Claud Johnson on the main stage during the Sunflower’s annual presentations..
“Robert Johnson was a giant among giants here in the Mississippi Delta, and enriched the musical heritage of our nation,” commented Tillis.
According to many blues historians, the intersection of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale is the legendary crossroads where Robert Johnson exchanged his soul for magical musical powers.
He lived 27 years and wrote only 29 songs, but his work as a guitarist and his compositions have influenced famous musicians for decades from Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Muddy Waters, Bonnie Raitt, and others, emphasizes Cathy Gurley, publicist for the Robert Johnson Foundation.
Following a 10-year legal battle, Claud Johnson, was named legal heir to the Robert Johnson estate controlling this music, Gurley said.
“Eric Clapton, who recorded an album titled, “Me and Mr. Johnson” in 2004, was emotional when he recently met Claud Johnson, ” Gurley commented from her office in Nashville.
Rock celebrity Robert Plant spent a weekend in Clarksdale during the summer tracing the paths of Robert Johnson and other early bluemen who influenced his career and the music of Led Zeppelin.
Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page recorded an album, “Walking into Clarksdale.”
According to Gurley, the Johnson family formed the Robert Johnson Foundation to help musicians with basic and medical needs, referral services, and scholarships for music students.
Recognized also on the Sunflower’s main stage Saturday night were artist Henry Dorsey, Coahoma Community College art department chairman emeritus who created the 2005 festival design for programs and t-shirts featuring sketches of Charlie Musselwhite and divas Shirley Brown, Geneva Red, and Barbara Looney.
The Sunflower Festival opened Friday afternoon and continued through Saturday night with a Sunday discussion with Charlie Musselwhite sonsored by the Southern Arts Federation.