Friday, May 15, 2020

The Headstone of James "Son" Thomas

The Mt. Zion Memorial Fund placed a large memorial headstone on the grave of James ‘Son’ Thomas on March 9, 1996 at the Greater St. Matthews M.B. Church in Leland, Mississippi. Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty financed the memorial. The unveiling was followed by a ceremony attended by Thomas’ large extended family and numerous local friends and musicians including Texas guitarist Rick ‘Casper’ Rawls and several other noted musicians from Austin and Memphis.

© 2019 - T. DeWayne Moore
Thomas, a gravedigger by occupation, who remained a beloved fixture in his home town of Leland, was also a renowned folk artist, sculpting figures in deathly repose as well as expressive skulls. His work has been displayed in the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. (where he met and charmed then-first lady Nancy Reagan) as well as in galleries in New Orleans and Memphis. He is remembered for his musings on the subject of death, often spoken at concerts and reflected in his lyrics which appear on his headstone.

© 2019 - T. DeWayne Moore

In one article for the (Clarksdale, MS) Press-Register, a photograph from Panny Mayfield shows four of Thomas' 13 children including (from left) Raymond “Pat” Thomas, who sang and played his late father’s guitar as part of the headstone dedication service directed by Mt. Zion Memorial Fund founder Skip Henderson (pictured in upper right congratulating three of Thomas’ other sons) Johnny Thomas, Wendle Thomas, and Patrick DeWayne Thomas. Sid Graves, the founder of the Delta Blues Museum, hosted a reception following the dedication, which featured a performance by Raymond "Pat" Thomas. The owners of Hopson Plantation Commissary also hosted a blues event in honor of "Son" that benefitted the Clarksdale Care Station, a non-profit founded in 1987 "to feed the sick and shut-in" by "providing meals to needy persons" and by feeding "their souls with God's word delivered daily by local pastors."

Greater St. Matthews M.B. Church
© 2019 - T. DeWayne Moore
Both the opening act—The Remains headed by Ronnie Drew—and the multi-talents of virtuoso guitarist Terry Williams (center) contributed to the success of the music benefit at Hopson that raised an estimated $400 for the Care Station. Featuring the "sharp dressed men" of the Wesley Jefferson Band (right) in black tuxedos and red vests including (from left in the photo below) Wesley Jefferson, James "Super Chikan" Johnson, Rip Butler, and Michael James, the benefit was filmed by Graham Video.

© 2019 - T. DeWayne Moore

© 2019 - Robert B. Mortimer
On August 13, 2019, Robert B. Mortimer of Mortimer Funeral Homes in Greenville, Mississippi raised and re-attached the headstone of James Thomas to the base. He is also the custodian of several other markers erected by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund in Greenlawn Memorial Gardens. Click on the names of the artists for more information on the memorials to T-Model Ford, Eddie Cusic, and Billy Smiley.

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