Robert Johnson

Rev. James Ratliff, Robert Johnson, and Skip Henderson Keep the Blues Alive and Save the Mt. Zion M.B. Church

The Mount Zion Memorial Fund was officially incorporated in the fall of 1989 as the Robert Johnson Mount Zion Memorial Fund to raise money to save the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church from foreclosure and to place a cenotaph historic marker (not a grave stone as is often mistaken- the memorial bears no Birth-Death dates) in the Mt. Zion cemetery in honor of Robert Johnson whose death certificate, discovered by blues researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow, lists “Zion Church” as a burial site. This goal was accomplished on April 20th, 1991, in partnership with Columbia Records through the work of Columbia A&R man Arthur Levy, with the support of Columbia President Don Ienner, and with the cooperation of the Mt. Zion congregation under the guidance of Pastor Rev. James Ratliff. The ceremony was attended by over 300 people packed into the Mount Zion Church and was covered by Billboard Magazine, Rolling Stone Magazine, Newsweek Magazine and numerous local media.The granite, one ton obelisk has a central inscription by noted music author Peter Guralnick, side inscriptions by Skip Henderson which were later used with permission on the Robert Johnson marker in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, and all of Johnson’s known recordings added at the behest of Columbia Records. At the request of church members, the song titles, several of which mention the devil, were positioned facing away from the church entrance. This marker has been vandalized on at least three occasions, apparently by souvenir seekers.

Peter Guralnick, thank you letter to Skip Henderson, 1991.
Guralnick, letter to Skip Henderson, 1991.
Peter Guralnick composed the central inscription

Rev. Ratliff became a fixture at the dedications

Henderson works with Living Blues magazine co-founder Jim O'Neal and Delta Blues Museum director Sydney Foster Graves to raise $17,000 to pay off the lien on the church and commission the granite cenotaph for Robert Johnson.