'Lil' Son Joe' Ernest Lawlars

On October 13, 1996, the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund installed a commemorative marker on the grave of the musician known as “Memphis Minnie,” whose legal name at the time of her death was Lizzie Douglas Lawlars, in the New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Walls, MS. It was not realized, however, that the remains of her songwriter husband and longtime accompanist Ernest “Little Son Joe” Lawlars, who had passed away almost twelve years prior, lay beside her in an unmarked grave himself. According to Minnie’s biographers, Paul and Beth Garon, Son possessed great skill as a guitarist and had no trouble keeping up with the popular recording artist. The couple soon developed an extremely close, loving relationship and could not stand to be apart.

Considering that some scholars contend that her first husband, Joe McCoy, could not handle being married to such a popular wife, Minnie certainly did not want her newfound soulmate to develop similar feelings. In fact, she once refused to tour after learning that her husband could not be by her side. The couple remained almost inseparable from the late 1930s until he succumbed to a debilitating heart condition in Memphis on November 14, 1961. Two days later, the funeral directors at “Southern F.H.,” of Memphis, held a memorial service and buried her loving husband at New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery. Minnie was devastated after his funeral, which triggered the talented musician’s second stroke, imprisoning her in a wheelchair until she also passed on August 6, 1973.

Earlier in 2016, the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund sought and received permission to install a headstone on the unmarked grave of Ernest Lawlars—who resides to the immediate left of his Minnie. We did not wish to significantly alter the current look of the burial ground and proposed to install a marker with dimensions (12” x 24” x 4” deep), which allowed for a certain type of installation that reduces visibility on approach, yet offers ample space on its face to include all necessary information (full name, birth and death dates) as well as some key artistic elements, which reflect the cultural significance of the musical combo.

At 10:00 a.m. June 25, 2016 at New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Walls, Mississippi, Steve Salter held the dedication ceremony for the headstone of Ernest Lawlars, the husband and accompanist of Memphis Minnie, who preceded his loving wife to the grave on November 14, 1961. Dr. Steve Palmer, an officer in the county sheriff's department, which provided crucial assistance in facilitating this memorial, was also on hand as well as MZMF director DeWayne Moore.