Two historic marker dedications kick off Sunflower Blues Fest activities August 12

Press Release from the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, 7/28/2011 – Panny Mayfield, publicist; – 662-621-4157

Big Jack Johnson performed for more than two decades at the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival.

Big Jack Johnson and Red Paden

Big Jack Johnson and his good friend Red Paden visit outside Paden’s club on Sunflower Avenue, Johnson’s favorite hometown stage. Johnson’s Walk of Fame plaque will be dedicated in the sidewalk outside Red’s Blues Club on August 12.

Big Jack Johnson relaxes at home with his  W. C. Handy Award .
Special to the Press Register

CLARKSDALE – Two historic blues marker dedications are kicking off festivities opening the 24th annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival Friday, August 12.

The late Big Jack Johnson, Clarksdale’s premiere blues musician, song writer, and world ambassador will be honored at 2 p.m. with a Walk of Fame plaque in the Sunflower Avenue sidewalk outside Red’s Blues Club, his favorite hometown stage.

Earlier at 10 a.m., a Mississippi Blues Heritage Trail Marker recognizing the cultural importance of Clarksdale’s New World District will be unveiled outside Messenger’s on Martin Luther King Blvd.

With Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Honeyboy Edwards, Sam Cooke and others performing in clubs, on street corners and inside the New Roxy Theatre, the New World District has been described by locals as so vibrant and busy on the weekends, “You had to walk sideways to get down the street.”

A forum remembering Johnson and five other key Sunflower Festival figures: James Alford, Michael James, Wesley Jefferson, Sarah Moore, and Foster “Tater” Wiley by family members and friends will take place at Ground Zero Blues Club at 3 p.m. Friday.

Tributes will continue on the Sunflower’s main stage Saturday evening, Aug. 13.

All events are free with the public encouraged to attend.

Although Big Jack Johnson was born in Lambert and died March 14, in Memphis, he was claimed by Clarksdale and revered in the tradition of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, according to local music historians.

Before international recognition following his appearance in “Deep Blues,” the 1992 documentary, Johnson drove a truck for Rutledge Oil Company and adopted the name, “The Oil Man,” and his band: “Big Jack and the Oilers.”

Celebrated for his virtuosity on guitar and mandolin, Johnson first played with Sam Carr and Frank Frost, and the trio performed and recorded together for 40 years as the legendary Jelly Roll Kings.

The emotional intensity of his music and lyrics earned him a W. C. Handy Award for 2003 Album of the Year; the Living Blues Award for Most Outstanding Blues Musician/Guitar; Crossroads Magazine’s Blues Record of the Year; and nominations for numerous other honors.

He was an avid fisherman and devoted family man married nearly 50 years to Anjeanette Johnson; their children include eight daughters, four sons, 29 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.

Following a fast-paced global career for decades, Johnson enjoyed playing at the local blues club owned by his good friend, Red Paden.

Heritage Blues Trail Markers are sponsored by the Mississippi Development Authority and the New World District unveiling is being coordinated by the Coahoma County’s Tourism Commission.  

The educational memorial forum is sponsored by the Rock River Foundation founded by Bill Luckett and Morgan Freeman.

The Walk of Fame sidewalk plaques honor Coahoma County residents who have attained international success in music, literature and the arts, sports, history/civil rights and are sponsored by the Coahoma County Board of Supervisors.

The Johnson plaque  is the 12th one in Clarksdale’s Walk of Fame, according to Tana P. Vassel of the Chamber of Commerce, the key sponsoring organization.

Other plaques recognize Sam Cooke, Son House, Early Wright, Muddy Waters, Ike Turner,  Super Chikan Johnson, Dr. Aaron Henry, John Clark, Tennessee Williams, Perian and Charlie Conerly.