Lizzie ‘Kid’ Douglas Lawlars

 © Euphus Ruth 1999
© Euphus Ruth 1999

[famously known as Memphis Minnie] as well as her husband, Ernest Lawlars, who recorded under the name "Lil' Son Joe," were buried in the New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Walls, Mississippi. The small, rural town sits about twenty minutes due south from Beale Street on Highway 61. The headstone memorial unveiling took place on the morning of October, 13th, 1996 in beautiful fall sunshine and was recorded for radio presentation by the BBC of London. The ceremony was attended by over 90 people including Minnie’s sister Daisy and 33 members of the extended Douglas family, many of whom had no idea of their relative’s powerful musical legacy. Bonnie Raitt financed the memorial stone which bears engraved roses and a ceramic cameo portrait.

Global Reverberations: Other Accounts

The Memphis Minnie marker and the New Hope Baptist Church lie between Highway 61 and the Mississippi River, and cotton fields surround the church and the adjacent cemetery. The front of the monument has a small picture of Minnie and her birth and death dates.  The headstone inscription composed by Minnie biographer Paul Garon reads: 

© Euphus Ruth 1999
“The hundreds of sides Minnie recorded are the perfect material to teach us about the blues. For the blues are at once general, and particular, speaking for millions, but in a highly singular, individual voice. Listening to Minnie’s songs we hear her fantasies, her dreams, her desires, but we will hear them as if they were our own."

“This was a truly extraordinary event,” declared Blues-L member William Morgan, “and so much of the credit…should go to Skip Henderson of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, which has now been responsible for nine such monuments [and] goes much further than the placing of a headstone” in honor of Memphis Minnie, who died in 1973 and lay buried in an unmarked grave.

© Euphus Ruth 1999
All of the pink paper signs on every immobile object in the small hamlet of Walls, Mississippi, guided an estimated one hundred people to the “typically tiny” New Hope Baptist Church, which sits about a mile west of the gas station on Highway 61.  The crowd found the large, beveled stone at the eastern edge of the burial ground, draped with a bedsheet. As many as half of the people in attendance, Morgan believed, were relatives of Minnie, including the blues artists’ youngest sister, the last surviving of eleven siblings, and her daughter-in-law, with whom Minnie spent her final days.  The church minister was as cordial as could be and could not have had less concern for the ragged appearance of some folks and invited them over to the ceremony, which started promptly at noon. 

Minnie biographer Paul Garon at the ceremony in 1998
Minnie biographer Paul Garon at the ceremony in 1998 
Testimonials and remembrances marked the friendly event.  In addition to the clergy, family members, and friends, among those in attendance were Paul and Beth Garon, who in 1992 published "Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues"; Jim and Selina O'Neal, of Rooster Blues Records and Living Blues Magazine; Panny Mayfield, of the Clarksdale Press Register; Gayle Dean Wardlow, blues historian; Art Tipaldi, of Blues Revue; a representative of BMG Records, who announced that a new Memphis Minnie collection is due out in January; a group from the BBC in London; Denise Tapp, a zeller from Memphis, and Mark Hoffman, a friend from Seattle; a young couple from Massachusetts; a young couple from Norway; a small tour group so recently mentioned in a Southwest Airlines magazine article; and Mariah Warnock-Graham, who created the web site "Women of the Blues."  He offered one last comment on the scene:

“All of us white folk were invited to stand and introduce ourselves and describe our interests in being there.  I could go on about what the event meant to me -- about how the prodigal daughter had finally been welcomed home without further judgment; about how good and evil and black and white had converged and cared without incident; and how I came to love the people there for making it so.  But it's enough to say that this event was one of those rare occasions in which all was right and fair, and the way it should be.”

Detroit Free Press, July 13, 1997.
One of the editors of Detroit Blues magazine sought advice from founder Skip Henderson while attending the dedication in honor of Memphis Minnie.  The Detroit Blues Society and the Son House Memorial Trust Fund in 1995 wanted to #1) adopt the existing park at the corner of Clarita and Lahser, adjacent to Mt. Hazel Cemetery, and #2) change its name to Son House Memorial Park, and #3) erect a gazebo, a statue, and a memorial plaque outlining the particularly notable contributions of the Mississippi blues shouter.[1]  Henderson answered “many questions” concerning the erection of memorials for blues musicians, and he enlightened them as to the real costs of erecting a “fitting memorial in line with the other such memorials,” and schooled them on “all the legal ramifications” of such an ordeal.  The blues writers and members of the Detroit Blues Society returned to Michigan and immediately started raising money to mark the grave of “Son” House.  The other elements of the tribute fell away in the harsh spotlight of municipal politics and the reality of cemetery and property law.  Wayne Pritchard, of Simpson Granite--a music lover and responsible for the erection of the Nolan Strong Memorial dedicated on November 24, 1996—offered up his experience on the project.  Son House was buried in an unmarked grave at Mt. Hazel Cemetery in October 1988.

“We have found ‘what’ we are going to erect,” they informed, “now we must find ‘where.’”[2]  Most folks didn't know exactly where the blues singer had been laid to rest.   A headstone was erected for Son House in the summer of 1997.

[1] The Detroit (MI) Free Press, Oct 11, 1995, p.7C.
[2] “Blues Editorial,” Detroit Blues 2:4 (Winter 1996-97): 5-6.