Jim Jackson

Promotional photo of Jim Jackson published
in the American Epic companion booklet.
Born in the north Mississippi hill country near Hernando, Mississippi, Jim Jackson had talent. His talent for music opened up career prospects in the early recording industry, and his 1927 smash Vocalion hit "Kansas City Blues" proved the nascent industry had vast economic potential.  Jim Jackson's career as a recording artist began in the mid-1920s, following an extended tour on Beale Street and the medicine show circuit. Though he briefly worked with Jackson talent scout H.C. Speir, he released his most popular music on Vocalion for talent scout Jack Kapp. Indeed, he was one of the earliest country blues recording artists to find some measure of success. His career, however, was cut tragically short in Memphis, 1933. According to his death certificate and his obituary in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, an Orange Mound funeral home prepared and shipped his remains to Hernando, where his extended family buried the groundbreaking musician in the African American section of Hernando Memorial Cemetery. No headstone has ever marked the blues singer's remains. But in 2022, the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund will remedy this problem. 

Hernando is a small Mississippi town located about twenty miles south of Memphis; it's also the seat of government for Desoto County, a flat, rural farming community in the early 20th century where the sun seemed to burn mercilessly hot above the fields. The migration of farmers to the largely uncleared, yet perhaps most fertile, fields of the Delta started before the Civil War, which upended the social and economic order in the South. Due to African American's high rate of success in post-war state elections, scores of African American farmers sought to experience the transition from slavery to freedom in Mississippi. The flat, rural landscape of the Delta served as a beacon of light for formerly enslaved Mississippians, especially towards the end of the 19th century, when social Darwinist-infused attitudes on race  inspired sinister new efforts at disfranchisement and strict enforcement of racial segregation laws. Prior to the ratification of the 1890 state constitution, which effectively prevented Black men from exercising the right to vote, the only African American political leader on the Constitutional Convention, Isaiah Montgomery, established the all-black town of Mound Bayou around 1887. It became a symbol of Black economic and administrative excellence, which challenged hardening racial discourse and highlighted the falsehoods at the core of racial stereotypes.

moved from one farm to another, sharecropping, and Saturday night came as a relief after six long days of hard work in the cotton-fields. Singers and guitarists provided in the past, and to some extent do today, the music for the dances and fish-fries that often went until dawn on Sunday.

In 1927, talent scout H. C. Speir worked with Jim Jackson briefly, and he may indeed be responsible for signing him to a recording contract with Vocalion. His first recording session took place on October 10, 1927. "Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues" became a huge selling record. Its melody and lyrics can be traced in many later blues and rock and roll songs, including "Rock Around the Clock" and "Kansas City". Following this hit Jackson recorded a series of "Kansas City" follow-ups and soundalikes.[4] Other artists recorded cover versions of the song (including William Harris in 1928[5]) and reworked it (as Charlie Patton did, changing it to "Gonna Move to Alabama."[6]) Jackson moved to Memphis in 1928 and made a series of further recordings, including the comic medicine show song "I Heard the Voice of a Pork Chop".[7] He also appeared in King Vidor's all-black 1929 film Hallelujah!; it is unclear what role he played.[2]

Jackson ran the Red Rose Minstrels, a travelling medicine show which toured Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama. As a talent scout for Brunswick Records, he discovered Rufus "Speckled Red" Perryman, gaining him his first recording session.[8] Shortly afterwards, in February 1930, Jackson recorded his last session. He later moved back to Hernando and continued to perform until his death in 1933.

PLEASE! Help Us Mark His Grave 

A musical style developed in the adjoining counties of DeSoto, Tate and Marshall. It was a gentle but rhythmically solid kind of blues, the singing having much in common with the old field hollers. ideal for dancing, it later became very popular in the medicine shows that toured the whole of the south. The reason for its popularity and its diffusion was probably the dominating influence of a single musician, Frank Stokes. He was born in Senatobia, a few miles south of Hernando, and frequently played round there, often accompanied by Dan Sane, whose guitar provided a rhythmic backdrop for Stoke's playing and singing. Some time round the beginning of this century Stokes moved a few miles north, to Memphis, as did large numbers of blacks from his home area. Nevertheless, he often returned to the places in which he grew up, to see old friends and to play for and with them. Among the bluesmen who followed in his steps were Garfield Akers and Joe Callicott, from Nesbit in DeSoto County, and Jim Jackson and Robert Wilkins, who both came from Hernando. Stokes's influence on these men is particularly evident in the work of Akers and Callicott, who played together for many years, creating a two-guitar sound very close to that of Stokes and Sane.

Jim Jackson and Robert Wilkins later moved to Memphis as well, and all of them played in the gambling halls along Beale, at parties and Sunday suppers given by white folks, and on the medicine show platforms. These shows toured all the rural areas of the south, setting up tents and dispensing concoctions based on alcohol, with a few additions to give them a medicinal flavor.

Jim Jackson traveled extensively with different medicine shows from about 1915 until the early 'thirties. He started with Silas Green's and Abbey Sutton's shows; then for a long time traveled with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, one of the largest groups. Apart from singing, he danced and told jokes, helping to sell the medicine that was 'guaranteed' to do you good. He is also recalled as having toured with the Red Rose Minstrel Show, all over the south, in 1928; he was joined by Speckled Red, with whom, on one occasion, he recorded.

Furry Lewis: "used to hear about him down in Greenville. He used to travel with the medicine shows, you know. I played with Jim Jackson. You know, he could pick a guitar just like I did. Sometimes just us two was playing together. Jim Jackson's been dead about thirty years ago. I couldn't tell you if he was two or three years older or younger than I. We was about the same age."

The Iron Gate guarding the white side of Hernando Memorial
Cemetery. Turn left and drive through the wooden gate
to enter the black section of the burial ground which holds 
forever close the remains of "Kansas City" Jim Jackson.
Gus Cannon: "I was at the same recording session as Jim Jackson when he cut Kansas City Blues. We used to play together in Memphis in the streets and, in medicine shows. Sometimes he would play with Frank Stokes too. The people who recorded Jim didn't allow me to play with him on the records. He was from Hernando."

Willie Borum: 'When I was a little kid in the early 'twenties Jim Jackson stayed on 1150 Grant in North Memphis. He would play on the streets around there for his neighbors. I learned playing some guitar from him. He recorded the Kansas City Blues. They carried him to Chicago to record it. He'd been singing it for a long time then. He used to play where I was living, you know. He left Memphis and never came back. He was a boy living on Beale. He was taught guitar by his father.' 

Most folks remember "Kansas City Blues." It was very popular. He used to go around playing on the streets all over Memphis. Sometimes he was with Frank Stokes.' Jim Jackson died on February 18, 1933 in Memphis, but he was buried in his home town of Hernando.