Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Grave of Willie Foster

The Grave of Willie Foster
The Harmonica King of Holly Ridge
Bill Johnson, March 2003

For those who love the blues; many have felt the mystical touch of Willie Foster, who put a human face in this music that chronicled the history and the people of the Mississippi Delta.

In an uncanny artistic way, he touched thousands over a short span, yet became a legend in his own lifetime. But like so many great blues legends, Foster, who died on May 20, 2001, had a wealth of friends and' family, but was poor in finance.  His band, Willie Foster & the Blues Upsetters, served as ambassadors from the Mississippi Delta around the world. And like so many of the area's blues treasures, Foster was grossly underpaid, underappreciated,  and all but unsung.

In March 2003, Danny & Sharon Peeples hosted a fundraiser at the Walnut Street Blues Bar in Greenville to help pay for the memorial stone that now marks his grave in Holly Ridge. Sponsored by Billy Johnson and the Leland Blues Project, the event featured blues artists from across the Magnolia State.

Leland blues legend Eddie Cusic, who participated in the evening of down-home blues tradition, said in an interview Thursday that he felt it was definitely a worthwhile cause. "Foster was one of the best that's gone in recent years," Cusic said. "I am proud to help out in any way."  Other Delta blues artists featured on the bill include Little Bill Wallace, T-Model Ford, Jason Leland, Eden Brent, John Horton and the Special Occasion Band. Mississippi Slim, Jay Kurgis and many more.

Chestrene Foster, Foster's widow, stated, "It's real nice. Speaking of the stone. I would like to thank everyone in advance, and especially Mr. Tom Robertson of Holly Ridge for leading the way and stepping forward with kindness and finance.  He's really appreciated."  

[Tom Robertson, whose family has owned Heathman plantation for many years, donated the land on which Charley Patton and Willie Foster's graves sit in Holly Ridge. Bill Robertson also spoke at the Patton dedication in 1991, a memorial that his family remains fiercely proud of to this day. Foster grew up in Holly Ridge and came home to rest only a few feet from the grave of Patton.]

Beverly Reginelli, who operates the Holly Ridge Grocery, said she remembers when Foster and his band played for her brother, Butch Reginelli, at Chevy's in Indianola from 1987 through 1995.

"And in Holly Ridge, this is where Willie was born and raised out here," Reginelli said.
"Some of us can recall Willie, playing just outside in front of the store."

The memorial for Foster was unveiled in March 2003 at Holly Ridge Cemetery, and it was followed by a blues tribute at the Holly Ridge Grocery by a few more indebted blues musicians. 

Longswitch/Holly Ridge Cemetery in the 2010s
© Shein Die

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