Friday, December 30, 2016

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Siloam Rosenwald School and Biddleville Cemetery in Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission is seeking help to preserve a historic school for black children, including the possibility of having it moved from a lot near UNC-Charlotte where it was built in the 1920s.

Dan Morrill, of the landmarks commission, says the Siloam Rosenwald School on John Adams Road is “highly endangered” due to deterioration. This happened despite being designated a historic landmark in 2006, he said.

The property is owned by the Tribute Companies, which has reportedly asked the landmarks commission to help find someone to take the building for preservation. It was built on the site as part of a 20th-century project to educate African-American children throughout the South. The current structure replaced an old log cabin, historians say.

“Unless something is done soon, the Siloam Rosenwald School will be beyond repair,” Morrill said in a statement.

“Rough estimates suggest that to restore the school will cost $150,000. Moving it elsewhere would require an additional $50,000. The fate of the building rests first with Tribute Companies. They own it.”

In March 2008, the owner received approval for plans to restore the school but did not move forward with the project. “Indeed, the Siloam School has not received any improvements and is deteriorating rapidly,” Morrill said.

He’d like to see the building used for classes that would make the community more aware of its African-American heritage. “There are many options. As in most cases, however, the issue comes down to money and setting priorities. Perhaps the only solution is to let the Siloam Rosenwald School crumble and go away,” Morrill said in a statement.

Rosenwald Schools were named for Julius Rosenwald, the head of Sears Roebuck & Co. Rosenwald joined with Booker T. Washington of Tuskeegee Institute to build new school buildings for African-Americans throughout the South.

The Siloam Rosenwald School harkens back to a day when Mecklenburg County was overwhelmingly rural. It sits on its original site, which is now located at the entrance to an apartment complex owned by Tribute Companies. The Historic Landmarks Commission did examine the building in 2013 and found that the structure was capable of being moved, Morrill said.

Charlotte City Council voted last week to offer historic landmark protections for another important African-American site, the old Biddleville Cemetery, founded in 1873.

Biddleville Cemetery is considered vital on several counts: It wasn’t a slave cemetery, but was instead a rare neighborhood cemetery for free blacks. It’s also the resting place of some of the city’s most notable black citizens, including veterans of the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

"No Vacancy?": Filling Up the Cemeteries

Development pushes up against Williamsville Cemetery, off Orange Centre Drive near U.S. Route 23 in Orange Township. The graveyard is closed to new burials. 

Cemeteries have only so much space. And yet with an endless supply of new customers, they rarely have to put up "no vacancy" signs.

Last week, tiny Williamsville Cemetery in Orange Township essentially did that, declaring that it was suspending new burials because the grounds had reached their useful capacity.

"It's an old, aged cemetery," said Lee Bodnar, Orange Township's administrator. "When it was originally laid out, the plots were significantly smaller than are required today, and because of its age, we were concerned about disrupting an existing grave."

Few have requested burial there in recent years, said Bodnar. The township's Africa Cemetery has ample future capacity for those who do.

But the burial stoppage underscores a growing concern: the aging population and limited land use.

"Eventually, all cemeteries will have to consider this," said Scott Harmon, president of the Ohio Cemetery Association. "It's going to be an obstacle that each township will have to explore."

Operators treat cemetery grounds much like miniature housing developments, with engineering, landscape design and master plans, said Harmon, who operates Dover Cemetery in Tuscarawas County.

Pre-purchased burial plots and the uncertain timing of death can create planning challenges, said Harmon, who said he has not heard of many cemeteries closing people out. The Dover Cemetery should have capacity for at least another 100 years.

The Ohio Department of Commerce keeps a registry of Ohio's 4,000 public and private cemeteries, but it doesn't track when they reach capacity or have to turn away business, said spokeswoman Lindsey Burnworth.

A national expert said cemeteries were built long ago, driven by supply and demand, to be near people and to serve them for generations.

"They're the only business that has to service what they sell forever," said Robert Fells, executive director and general counsel of the Virginia-based International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association, a national trade association. Most have endowment care accounts composed of a percentage of revenue that must go toward perpetual maintenance.

When cemeteries become landlocked, as often happens in urban areas, "we call them dormant cemeteries, when they run out of spaces," Fells said. But many in rural areas "have so much acreage, that even 200 years from now they will not have used it all," he said.

The rise of cremation has taken some of the pressure off cemetery land, Fells said.

"The cremation rate is nationally about 50 percent," he said. "That alone has extended the useful life of many cemeteries."

Funeral directors point to options other than burial, including columbaria that store ashes, said Melissa Sullivan, executive director of the Ohio Funeral Directors Association. Cemeteries, she said, likely will have to expand into less-developed areas eventually.

"Are you having to move further out? Probably," she said. "But we still have quite a bit of ground, and we're having more and more choices."

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Secret Life of Our Dying Cemeteries

It’s easy to forget that cemeteries were made for the living. Where first we may come in sorrow, seeking consolation, we often return again and again for something else.

We discover that places of eternal rest have many moods and designs — the moneyed hush of Oak Hill in Georgetown, the canine frolic of Congressional near Capitol Hill, the fields of infinite sacrifice at Arlington — yet in whichever idiosyncratic refuge we linger awhile, we sense the dead watching and taking our measure as well, keeping us company as much as we keep them.

“I just came to say ‘Hi’ to my dad,” says Christina Incognito, 53, eating a picnic salad with her son, Tyler, 20, on a blanket spread over the Arlington National Cemetery grave of Robert Eugene Bornsheuer, senior master sergeant, U.S. Air Force (May 21, 1927-April 5, 2012).

They drive down often from suburban Maryland to happily reminisce about the departed veteran. Incognito is awed by the crisp beauty of the ranks of white stones that seem paused in a timeless march.

“It gives me hope,” she says. “That there’s still kindness, that people take care of people who are not here.”

Hope is a concept that Romantics, Victorians and plutocrats brought to cemetery design in the 19th century. Before then, urban burial grounds were dismal, overcrowded labyrinths wedged into churchyards, scarcely meeting the minimum requirements of either municipal sanitation or reverent remembrance. Carved stone skulls and images of stalking Death adorned the tombs like dire warnings.

Romantic designers with Victorian taste and plutocratic capital launched the movement toward so-called garden cemeteries or rural cemeteries within the city. Monuments and mausoleums were set along curving paths within picturesque landscapes, the more topography the better. Stones were decorated with cherubs and angels and hopeful messages of gone-but-not-forgotten.

These green oases — places like Oak Hill, Mount Olivet and Rock Creek cemeteries — became the first large-scale parks of great American cities, places to stroll and court and relax, before actual parks came along, inspired in part by the restorative and aesthetic possibilities of cemeteries.

The absence of the dead is a park’s loss, and their presence is our gain as we hike to the summit of Mount Olivet on Bladensburg Road NE, where the stone cross of the Dominican Fathers and the graves and vaults of bishops and parishioners insist on an existence no less solid and perpetual than the one embodied by the Capitol dome visible across the urban valley from here.

The writing on tombs — names, dates, messages — is like the information cards next to paintings in a museum. We might begin our visit reading every one; then inevitably we start skipping. In a cemetery, some messages draw us in and get us thinking about people we never knew, such as Thomas Evans, “a native of England,” who died in 1884 at the age of 58, according to his monument in Oak Hill. The inscription asserts: “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

Does Thomas Evans still live in anyone’s heart? Unclear. But at least for a fleeting moment he is on our minds.

At Arlington National Cemetery, about 400,000 people from the
United States and 11 other countries are buried. 
(Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Beneath a sheltering oak in Rock Creek Cemetery (which is nowhere near Rock Creek), three generations of Nairn women are sprucing up the family plot established by Joseph W. Nairn, who died May 27, 1875. He owned a drugstore downtown and lived on H Street NW. Later, a family farm became part of Wheaton Regional Park. A column topped by a stone urn carries the names and dates of ancestors, surrounded by the graves of several Nairns.

To the women, the monument is like a book, each name a chapter. It gives them a sense of who they are, especially now that family members have scattered across the country.

“No one lives here anymore, but the memories are here,” says Holly Simmons, 28, a graduate student at the University of Maryland. Her grandfather, William W. Nairn III, a career Army officer, was buried in the family plot in 2013. Now there is room for only one more Nairn.

Janice L. Nairn, 85, widow of William, seems untroubled to stake that claim. In fact, she has made arrangements. “I’ll be back,” she says in a chipper voice, standing over a stone that carries her name and date of birth. Just one piece of data is yet to be chiseled.

By the late 1980s, there was widespread national concern that cemeteries were moribund. People stopped visiting. It’s not that cremation rates have now reached a record high of 49 percent. Ashes can still be buried, or visited in the cemetery’s columbarium, which can feel like paying respects before a library card catalogue.

Modern families have just become too transient, unsentimental, agnostic and forgetful to spend much time in graveyards.

“Once the families stop visiting, the personal touch, the scrubbed look, and the feeling of human presence are gone, and the ordinary cemeteries ‘lose their soul,’ ” Kenneth T. Jackson and Camilo José Vergara wrote in “Silent Cities: The Evolution of the American Cemetery.”

“Many dozens” of cemeteries have been lost or removed from the District over the centuries, leaving 22 today, according to a report by Anne O. Brockett, architectural historian in the D.C. Historic Preservation Office. Some that survive are fading, with headstones becoming illegible or broken, and vegetation encroaching.

Still, evidence of the ravages of time, a touch of the ramshackle, add drama to a cemetery and richness to our musings. At the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery, magnificent trees have grown up to disrupt the chalky ranks of markers. The trunk of a tulip poplar has ingested two graves so that the edges of the stones jut out from the bark on either side like hip bones. Life goes on.

A sculpture at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Mount Olivet is maintained by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and was one of the first in the city to be racially integrated. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)
To survive, a cemetery needs a gimmick. The little graveyard at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville found one when it accepted the remains of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. The writer — whose full name suggests his Maryland roots: Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald — originally was denied burial there in 1940 among other Fitzgeralds and Scotts because he had not gone to confession and taken communion regularly. Three decades later, church officials relented, and the graves were relocated from Rockville Cemetery.

Now admirers and necrotourists make their way here, where they take selfies before the gravestone etched with the last line of “The Great Gatsby,” perfect for a cemetery:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Congressional Cemetery was in decline in the 1990s when neighbors and cemetery leaders began transforming it into a community crossroads like no other cemetery in the city. Residents chipped in money to cut the grass. The cemetery welcomed dog owners to unleash their animals to chase and romp amid the tombstones. Now there are 770 canines registered for an annual fee, plus a wait list of more than a year, while other owners pay a daily rate. The cemetery hosts weddings, bar mitzvahs, a yoga group, a book club (Tombs and Tomes), chamber music (Notes From the Crypt) and a Twitter feed (@CongCemetery), and the gift store is stocked with jars of honey harvested from beehives on the grounds.

The cemetery has about 1,000 plots left. It sells 30 to 40 a year for $4,000 to $8,800. After they’re gone, then what? Already most of the graves have no contact from descendants.

“We needed people to care,” says Margaret Puglisi, vice president of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery. “This is a living space.”

The dead and the pre-dead are in on the crusade to save Congressional and other cemeteries. They are adding personality, which is to say life, to their tombs, turning cemeteries into community bulletin boards, etched with battle cries, résumés, sports teams, jokes.

“When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

“Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”

“Templeton Prize.”

“Sweet to the Core.”

“At Home with the Dogs.”

“First African-American Rhodes Scholar.”

“Come sit awhile.”

Athena Ullrich visits the graves of her parents at Arlington National Cemetery. Ullrich's father was a private in the U.S. Army during World War II. For his service he received a purple heart. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post) 

In the end, cemeteries give us what we’re looking for, but we’re looking for different things.

Veterans Day finds us back at Arlington. It is at least three cemeteries in one. It has a superficial identity as a tourist attraction, where death is spun into a national epic. It is also the resting place of veterans such as Christina Incognito’s father who went on to live full lives.

And it contains tragic groves like Section 60, where those who served the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq are buried, men and women who scarcely saw their 20s. Here the grief is particularly raw.

Jennifer Williamson crouches by the grave of Marine 1st Lt. Mark Steven Williamson (March 28, 1986-May 4, 2011).

“This is my brother,” she says. She visits as often as she can, all the way from Massachusetts, because “going to Arlington is a reminder that all of us are part of something larger than ourselves.” She also comes to thank her brother, she adds later in an email, “however strange that may seem. ... His ending sparked a revolution in my heart, and ... also opened my eyes to the beauty that was still left, and that I could contribute. I want to make the most of this life, to honor my brother and to honor myself.”

A couple of rows away, Yumiko Southard spreads a blanket on the grave of her son, Senior Airman Julian Seiji Scholten (Oct. 17, 1985-Feb. 18, 2012). He helped pioneer a new field of airborne intelligence and was on his third tour when the plane he was in crashed. The Air Force named an award for commando of the year after him.

His mother always sets out excited from Virginia’s Hampton Roads region at the prospect of a visit, accompanied by her husband. Penetrating the tourist throngs is surreal, then a familiar heaviness descends.

She lights a candle, places a picture of the young man, lays out sushi — his favorite food — and a bottle of Coors Light, his beer. On cold days, she might bring something warm in which to wrap the white stone.

“He is in here,” she says, indicating the grave, and she wants him to understand that “Here’s Mom, and I’m here to come see you.”

She gave birth to six children, and when someone asks how many she has, she still says six.

As the sun sets, she packs the sushi and beer and pushes herself to her feet. She kisses her fingers and rubs them on the top of the stone. Her fingers linger, flesh on marble, a moment of contact filled with one last feeling that we sometimes have in a cemetery, when the air goes out of these majestic spaces and they are reduced to their essence — the fulfillment of a timeless exchange between the living and the dead.

The mother passes through the gates of the cemetery, reflecting on her already well-lived life, and says, “I would take his place.”

Author: David Montgomery is a staff writer for the Washington Post. To comment on this story, email or visit

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Fiddler named Joost Went Down to Martense Lane--not Georgia???

In Martense Lane: Joost Beat the Devil Fiddling 

Long before the borough of Brooklyn swelled beyond the limits of Greenwood Cemetery, a noticeably indented stone sat as testament to this truth of this story about the Devil and Martense Lane. A black fiddle player named Joost, who had played for a wedding that evening, was walking home on Saturday night, his fiddle under his arm. He had drunk enough schnapps that he started seeing stars on the ground and fences in the sky. He felt very dizzy so he seated himself rather heavily on this rock to think about it. The behavior of the stars in swimming and rolling struck him as especially curious, and he conceived the notion that they wanted to dance. Putting his fiddle to his chin, he began a wild jig, and though he made it up as he went along, he was conscious of doing finely, when the boom of a bell sent a shiver down his spine. It was twelve o'clock, and here he was playing a dance tune on Sunday. However, the sin of playing for one second on the Sabbath was as great as that of playing all day; so, as long as he was in for it, he resolved to carry the tune to the end, and he fiddled away with a reckless vehemence. Presently he became aware that the music was both wilder and sweeter than before, and that there was more of it. Not until then did he observe that a tall, thin stranger stood beside him; and that he was fiddling too,—composing a second to Joost's air, as if he could read his thought before he put it into execution on the strings. Joost paused, and the stranger did likewise."Where did you come from?" asked the first. The other smiled.

"And how did you come to know that music?" Joost pursued.

"Oh, I've known that tune for years," was the reply. "It's called 'The Devil's joy at Sabbath Breaking.'"

"You're a liar!" cried Joost. The stranger bowed and burst into a roar of laughter. "A liar!" repeated Joost,—"for I made up dat music dis very minute."

"Yet you notice that I could follow when you played."

"Humph! Yes, you can follow."

"And I can lead, too. Do you know the tune 'Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself?'"

"Yes; but I play second to nobody."

"Very well, I'll beat you at any air you try."
"Done!" said Joost. And then began a contest that lasted until daybreak. The stranger was an expert, but Joost seemed to be inspired, and just as the sun appeared he sounded, in broad and solemn harmonies, the hymn of Von Catts:

"Now behold, at dawn of day, Pious Dutchmen sing and pray."

At that the stranger exclaimed, "Well, that beats the devil!" and striking his foot angrily on the rock, disappeared in a flash of fire like a burst bomb. Joost was hurled twenty feet by the explosion, and lay on the ground insensible until a herdsman found him some hours later. As he suffered no harm from the contest and became a better fiddler than ever, it is supposed that the recording angel did not inscribe his feat of Sabbath breaking against him in large letters. There were a few who doubted his story, but they had nothing more to say when he showed them the hoof-mark on the rock.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec 25, 1881.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec 25, 1881.

The Osage City Free Press, Jan 21, 1897.
The Osage City Free Press, Jan 21, 1897.

Updated: Memphis Minnie memorial page


Thursday, December 15, 2016

"Blind" Boone and the Polyphonic West African Roots of Ragtime

Ragtime Revival and Musical Legacies in St. Louis
By Patricia Rice for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch - 1974 

RAGTIME is keeping feet tapping again. Disk jockeys are spinning rag-time records and ragtime albums are in demand at record shops. The movie, "The Sting," used Scott Joplin's ragtime music on its soundtrack. One of the best-selling albums last year was the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble's renditions. On the levee, the St. Louis Ragtimers are playing to more attentive, knowledgeable audiences.

Alton Evening Telegraph, Jan 13, 1883.
The audiences are asking more questions, and one of the questions is where did ragtime come from. Lots of ragtime was played in St. Louis—in the "tenderloin" along Morgan Street (Delmar) and Franklin Avenue. The black piano player was paid good money to play the exciting music in the garish bordellos. Ragtime's musical origins are harder to pin down. One of the links with where the music began is the ragtime music of Blind Boone.

Boone wasn't a stereotype piano player wearing sleeve garters and pounding away on a bordello upright.

Boone was a debonair black pianist who played in the finest halls here and in Europe. He was considered an outstanding musician by his peers and won acclaim from Paderewski and Rachmaninoff. His repertoire was vast and he had the near-genius gift of being able to imitate anything he heard after one or two hearings.

When Mrs. Irene Cortinovis, assistant director of archives and manuscripts at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, interviewed 20 old Mississippi Riverboat musicians, she found that Boone was one of their heroes.

BOONE, a black man who had made it in the white European tradition of classical music, loved ragtime. He used to get lost from time to time and go to bordello districts where he played ragtime.

He may have been one of the first musicians to play ragtime before an audience of white men and women in a serious music concert hall. When his audience would become restless after a number of concertos he would stop and say: "We going to put the cookies on the lower shelf now," and he would burst out in a rag.

The Hutchinson News, May 15, 1926.
The rag the audience heard was not like the rag you buy in the record shop today — even if what you are buying is a recording of 1900 piano rolls. B pone reproduced every note he heard. ARA what he played was rags the way they were first played before Scott Joplin, Tom Turpin, Louis Chavin and James Scott and other Missouri pianist-com-posers wrote down what are now called classic rags.

TREBOR TICHENOR, pianist for the St. Louis ragtimers, lecturer at Washington University and KFMU ragtime program disk jockey, has a dozen Blind Boone piano rolls. •

He believes that they are a key to what ragtime was in the beginning.  Tichenor sat down at his player piano recently and ran his yellowed piano rolls cut by Boone. The rags were different from any we had heard. Instead of the usual march meter in the left hand conflicting with the music in the right in usual syncopated rag style, the music was polyphonic. It was not unlike driving African drum tempos.

"You'd think the notes were all wrong," Tichenor said. "But this is more like folk music, more like what ragtime must have been at first.

"They are rare jewels of authentic [black] folk music," he said handling a roll carefully and slipping it into its discolored box.

A roll Tichenor had run for us was one of the rags that Boone had written himself. If a ragtime pianist today would play the sheet music it would sound much like conventional ragtime. It is Boone's personal playing arrangement on the piano rolls — not the written notations that he played or improvised for the piano roll cutting session — that is the link to ragtime's past.

Perhaps Boone's reputation as a concert pianist allowed him the freedom to play his selections as they were played in the honky-tonks before they became commercially acceptable to whites.

The McPherson Daily Republican, May 4, 1916.
JOHN WILLIAM BOONE was born in March 1864 in the Seventh Militia camp at Miami, Mo. His mother, Rachel, was a cook. According to re-search of Robert Darch, a ragtime historian and musician, Rachel Boone was born in Kentucky. Descendants of Daniel Boone's family owned her as a slave.

When John William Boone was about 6 months old he suffered from what doctors termed "brain fever." A doc-tor removed his eyeballs to save his life.

Boone's mother married Harrison Hendrix when Boone was S years old. The family lived in a one-room log cabin on a small farm. The boy was given a tin fife and according to residents of Warrensburg he used to play at picnics and street corners. He could perfectly imitate birds sounds. The community raised funds to send the blind child to the St. Louis School for the Blind. There he learned to play the piano. A few years earlier braille musical notations for the blind had been developed by St. Louis musician Henry Robyn who taught at the school when Boone was there.

Boone had a gift for imitation. He is said to have mastered the piano in a year to the extent that he could play any composition on hearing it once. In his second year at the school he begin slipping away at night to play the piano at houses along Morgan and Franklin.

Eventually he was expelled and he returned to Warrensburg where he played popular tunes at picnics and fairs. At one fair a man named Cromwell hired him to travel with him and play music in the streets. Eventually Cromwell gambled and lost the boy in a poker game. The winner used young Boone to earn money. Boone's stepfather rescued him, according to Darch's research. Later Boone joined two young men and played music at train stops across central Missouri.

WHEN HE WAS 13 he met John Lange of Columbia who eventually be-came his manager. The pair went to a concert of a blind Negro pianist called Blind Tom who would ask a member of the audience to play a piece and then he would repeat it exactly as he heard it. Boone volunteered and played a difficult piece that won him applause.

The story of this statue as a commemoration remains untold...
Statue of "Blind" Boone
in Blind Boone Park in Warrenburg, MO
Later he played in Iowa where he was stranded with no money. A teacher at Iowa State Teacher's College convinced him that he could learn to play the classics. By imitating the teacher and others, he expanded his repertoire.

He continued to study music and Anna Heurmann, a teacher at William Woods College at Fulton, Mo., taught him in the early '90s, according to her family letters on file with the State Historical Society.

By 1894 Boone's popularity as a classical pianist had grown to such an extent that at a Saturday night concert in Miami, Mo., hundreds of people were turned away, the Miami News reported. He toured the United States and Canada frequently, usually scheduling six concerts a week according to records of the Blind Boone company. He was proud of playing at Harvard and Yale Universities. Twice before his retirement in 1927 he toured Europe.

The Sedalia Democrat, 
Aug 19, 1960.

IN 1888 HE MARRIED his manager's sister. They purchased a stately two-story brick house in Columbia Mo., which later became an undertaking establishment.

At the time of his retirement the Kansas City Star reported that his annual income was $17,000 a year. He was noted for being generous with donations to children. He used to infuriate concert hall managers by leading a dozen or more children into his con-certs without tickets.

Boone died just four months after he retired.

In 1961, Columbia residents held a benefit concert to raise money for a tombstone for his grave and for a music scholarship in his name. The effort was headed by State Senator A. Basey Vanlandingham.

Supporters included many who had 1.-Q.rd him play, including Gov. John Dalton, whose father's coal yard was near Boone's home. Vanlandingham recently noted that the concert barely made expenses. However, a tombstone was set up and later a com-unity center was named after Boone.

The piano rolls linking ragtime to it's polyphonic African origins are only now being regarded as Boone's real memorial. 

The Pittsburgh Courier, Sep 14, 1929.
The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about John William "Blind" Boone in the research centers of the Missouri Historical Society.

Other Articles

North Todd Gentry, Blind Boone and John Lange, Jr.” Missouri Historical Review 34:2 (January 1940), pp. 232-234. 

“Blind Boone,” Jefferson City Daily Tribune, April 27, 1898. 

“Blind Boone and His Life Story,” Columbia Tribune, July 25, 1912. p. 1, 3.

“Blind Boone Closes Forty-Fourth Season on Musical Platform,” Columbia Missourian, June 3, 1924. 

Mary Barile and Christine Montgomery, eds. Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins: The Life and Times of Blind Boone (Truman University Press, 2012.)

Jack Batterson, Blind Boone: Missouri’s Ragtime Pioneer (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998).

Melissa Fuell, Blind Boone, His Early Life and His Achievements (Kansas City, MO: Burton Publishing Co., 1915).

Madge Harrah, Blind Boone: Piano Prodigy (Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, 2004.)

The Kansas City Times, Feb 8, 1961.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

It's Starting to Look Like a Christmas Headstone Dedication

Press about the 1991 Dedication of the Robert Johnson Cenotaph

The Greenwood (MS) Commonwealth, Jan 10, 1991.
The Greenwood (MS) Commonwealth, Jan 10, 1991.
The Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, Feb 27, 1991.

The Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, Feb 27, 1991.

Upkeep of Blues Grave Costly

Here is a short, yet powerful, article that reminds us how important it is to support the church communities in which we place historical markers and headstones in honor of blues legends. It is important that we respect the unique position in which these communities find themselves--as the de-facto caretakers of immensely popular tourist sites. In honoring the dead, we sometimes disrespect the living. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Gravesites Take On A Life of Their Own???

Journalist Gary Pettus provides a horribly inaccurate title for what should be a harmless promotional article, "Gravesites" certainly do not "Take On A Life of Their Own" in Mississippi--not without some help. Cemeteries fortunate enough to have a competent sexton and maintenance trust take on the appearance that the living visitors and caretakers project and carve into the landscape. We have seen, however, so many sextons act with such negligence and cemetery maintenance trusts go bankrupt recently due to corruption and incompetence. Abandoned cemeteries and bankrupt organizations seem to be becoming the norm in Mississippi, but even they take on the appearance and alleged "life" of nature as it encroaches slowly but surely on the rows of graves.

Gary Pettus, "Gravesites Take On A Life
of Their Own," JCL, May 21, 2006.
Gravesites are kept up by dedicated individuals in rural and urban locales often for little compensation. There is no sexton for the graves of many blues musicians buried in abandoned African American cemeteries. Graves certainly do not take on a self-cleaning life of their own. Folks like Robert Mortimer in Greenville knows what I'm talking about, and Robert Birdsong has to pull the weeds and weed-eat several forlorn burial grounds around Clarksdale. It takes sweat, toil, and precious life's blood to maintain these hallowed grounds and see that these graves are kept clean. It may seem like these places "take on a life of their own," but if the headstones aren't covered in brush and tall grass and broken, good people have cleared these spaces and mended these markers so that others are free to believe in magic.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

T. DeWayne Moore --- Jack Dappa Blues Radio

On this episode of Jack Dappa Blues, Lamont Pearley interviews DeWayne Moore, director of The Mt. Zion Memorial Fund and avid researcher of African American History and Blues roots heritage.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

"Blues Songs were Unsung"

Saxophone players rose in prominence, carrying the blues and jazz to the mainstream.

"Random Brevities," The Muskogee (OK) Times Democrat, Feb 14, 1923.

"Go to Death Singing"

Eddie Lee and Lester Hurd, convicted of slaying Ollie Lancaster, town marshal of Bolton, were hanged on Friday.  They went to death singing and praying.

"Go To Death Singing," The Pittsburgh (PA) Courier, Feb 14, 1925.

"Bonnie is Intimate Wherever She Goes"

Her first impression of Bonnie Raitt came after the funeral of Skip James.  Local writer Mary Niepold watched as Bonnie Raitt was sitting in the dining room of widow Lorenza James in West Philadelphia. She was sitting on the side next his upright piano, and she strummed the blues on an old guitar.  Softly.  All alone. Delta bluesman James had been buried that after noon.

In 1974, the Temple University Music Festival in Ambler welcomed Bonnie Raitt back to town; but she wasn’t alone and she was still playing the blues she learned from bluesmen like James, the late Mississippi Fred McDowell and Sippie Wallace.  She played them softly, sometimes audaciously. And on this visit to Philadelphia (in which she has performed many times in the last three years), she had nearly four thousand people moving to every beat and earthy nuance of her music.  Having already played in the Main Point, the Shubert, the Walnut and the Academy of Music, Raitt had no trouble reaching large houses.  She’s as intimate with thousands as she is with hundreds. Talking, smiling and cracking jokes between numbers, she holds you engagingly.  Not once during the hour or so performance, did she lose her composure.

“She prefers an intimate atmosphere,” according to her bass player, Freebo (formerly with Philadelphia’s Edison Electric Band), “but you can’t just play small houses and have them lined up around the block. You have to reach the large houses.”

There were a few problems. Her 20-year-old electric Gibson needed tuning between every number. She laughed about it, and perched on a black stool, complaining about her need for an assistant “to do my tuning.”  The lighting was burning her out, too.  “My freckles are melting.”  The biggest problem (of which the audience likely had no awareness) was the new group that gave its first performance.  With only three days rehearsal, it showed in the opening numbers, but on the whole the group came across well. The two new members, after several years with Van Morrison, were John Platanaia on guitar and Jeff Labes on piano.  Each had their moments.  Each played skillfully.  The rhythm section of Raitt, Freebo on bass (and harmony and kazoo) and Dennis Whitted on drums was as tight, as driving, as it always was.  But the real star was Raitt and blues isn’t the only thing she’s a star in.

Time has only refined Ms. Raitt’s ability to go up and down emotions like scales on a piano. She can slide in and out of a ballad and make it as pure as a solo guitar. A gut-grabbing plea for love can become as painful in its remembrance as it was the first time you felt it. A rhythm and blues number rocks the chairs, one and all.  Bonnie Raitt always comes off as a woman, a little bit wistful, a little bit brazen and all the time soulful.  She’s also a consummate musician.

Above article from Mary Niebold, “Bonnie is Intimate Wherever She Goes,” The Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, Aug 10, 1974.

Bonnie Raitt came up in the southern California atmosphere of Broadway show tunes and surfing music.  She always liked the best soul, folk and blues.  “I started playing guitar at ten or twelve, picked up folk and by the time I was 14 I was playing blues guitar.” She rushed East for college to be part of the folk scene in Cambridge, Massachusetts “Of course when I got there, it had closed. Rock music had descended.  “In 1968, I went to Europe. I thought I’d heard every blues record. In England they had some unreleased material.”  That’s where Miss Raitt first heard the music of Sippie Wallace.

“I recorded two of her songs on my first album. I got to meet her finally in 1972 at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. I do her songs mostly because I like them the best and she is alive. She is one of the few who could benefit from me doing her songs. She celebrated her 77th birthday recently. She is an elder black woman who lives in Detroit, but she was one of the classical blues singers of the twenties. Her lyrics are raunchy in a kind of refreshing double entendre, not bawdy—a lot more touching and a Randy Newman kind of off-the-wall lyrics.

Her political and social views grew from her involvement as a Quaker.  “It was a social orientation, hands around the world, pacifist, the American Friends Service Committee. I went to Quaker camp the last two years of high school and became a leftist , liberal progressive. Now it seems the radicalism of the ’60s has become the common sense of the ’70s.

“Right now I’m involved with helping Tom Hayden run for Senate in California. It is nice to run up and down the state doing benefits and including local musicians.”  She does about 50 benefit concerts a year, accepting expenses, no performance fee.  “I do them for women’s community health centers, legal assistance projects, listener-sponsored radio stations. They pass out information in the lobby. I think it’s important.”

Above article from Mary Campbell, “Singer Bonnie Raitt Has Roots in Blues,” The (Bakersfield, CA) Times, Jan 25, 1976.

Sippie Wallace

Photo: © 1978 John Collier
Caption: "You'll often find Sippie around
young people. Here she is with Mary 
Padgett, one of her choir members."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Headstone Blues Initiative - Bo Carter

Since 1989, the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund has erected memorials for Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, "Big" Joe Williams, and Sam Chatmon, among others, and fought to maintain abandoned cemeteries in Mississippi. We have cleared all roadblocks to marking the grave of Armenter Chatmon, aka Bo Carter, of the Mississippi Sheiks. Buried in Nitta Yuma Cemetery near Panther Burn, his unmarked grave is the target our most recent Headstone Blues Initiative.
Please share this promotional poster, visit and like our page on Facebook - Help us mark the grave of Bo Carter, of the Mississippi Sheiks -

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) – A communication tower repair company unearthed human remains near a tower on Hilly St. in Greenville, South Carolina on Monday 11/21/16.

The crew was digging with a backhoe and found a skull, a portion of a jawbone and an apparent radius bone. They say the remains had been there for a while. They think the area where the bones were found was an unmarked grave site that was once a part of Richland Cemetery.

As the cemetery and surrounding streets were developed, the area in question became segmented from what now visually marks the borders of the cemetery, according to investigators. They say the information was obtained from past records, former City of Greenville employees, area residents and an historical cemetery specialist. Greenville Police Investigators have determined that this discovery is not related to homicide and there is no evidence of a crime having been committed. At the point where the Greenville County Coroner and forensic anthropologist complete their analysis of the remains, they will be reinterred.

Mt. Zion M.B. Church - Our Namesake

© Euphus “Butch” Ruth
© Euphus “Butch” Ruth

Former Philippine Dictator Given Burial in Heroes' Cemetery??

The funeral of Ferdinand Marcos
in the city of Taguig, Philippines
on Nov. 18, 2016
Victims--as well as relatives--of the regime of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos requested that the Supreme Court exhume his remains from the cemetery.  The group says it did not have enough time to appeal a ruling that allowed his burial in the country's Heroes Cemetery.  "How can a plunderer and despot and violator of human rights be given that honor of being buried in the memorial of good men," said Congressman Edcel Lagman, brother of an abducted anti-Marcos dissident who was never seen again.  Another group Monday asked the Supreme Court to hold the Marcos family and the military in contempt for the "hasty, shady and tricky" burial of the long-dead president.  A major demonstration protesting Marcos' burial at the memorial is planned for Friday.

The Supreme Court recently endorsed a decision by President Rodrigo Duterte to bury the dictator at the cemetery.  Marcos was ousted in 1986 in a mostly non-violent "People Power" revolution when millions of Filipinos took to the streets demanding he step down.  His rule was marked by massive human rights violations.  He and his cronies looted billions of dollars from state coffers, plunging the country into crippling debt.  Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989. His remains have been on public display in his northern Philippine hometown.  Previous presidents refused to allow Marcos to be buried in the Heroes Cemetery.