? Finding Robert Johnson in 2004 ?
Early in the morning of March 20, 2004, I headed south out of St. Louis
Some 430 miles & 7 hours later, my '72 Chevy pulled
into an old graveyard in Greenwood, MS.
I was immediately greeted by Deacon Sylvester Hoover of Little Zion
Deacon Hoover is the sponsor of this weekend's Tribute to
L. Johnson, the
legendary Bluesman that frequented the area during
1930's. Mr. Johnson
was buried in this church cemetery in 1938.
Several of Johnson's descendents are special guests at the 2-day event,
Claud L. Johnson,
son of Robert along with Steve Johnson, Grandson of
Also in attendance is Mrs. Rosetta C. Eskridge who attended
the funeral some 66 years ago.
Ms Rosie has lived nearby on the
Luther Wade Plantation
Note: Mrs. Rosie died 2 years after this event and is
this graveyard next
to her Husband Tom. The stone shows the date
death as 7-1-2006,
however Mrs. Rosie died on 6-22-2006.
Tom & Rosie's Plantation House
Tom "Peter Rabbit"
Eskridge, Rosie's husband, dug Robert Johnson's
grave right under
a pecan tree. The Johnson family, visitors, and several
members of this 140+ year old
church had just completed a clean-up of the
cemetery and church grounds.
Note: The stone shows the name Eskridge
mispelled with an extra letter 'E'.
Mary Hoover, choir member and
Sylvester, reported that a few snakes
were removed while workers cut grass,
removed whiskey bottles, picked up
and assorted other trash left by
blues fans visiting the gravesite.
The church property on Money Road borders the
Tallahatchie River about 2 miles
of Greenwood, MS. Thousands of graves are located within this isolated,
tree lined, and peacefully secluded spot. About 5 P.M., the Little Zion
M.B. Church Choir
finished their rehearsal and headed home while the Johnson
Family headed to their hotel
in Greenwood and the '72 Chevy headed north on
Highway 49 to
Clarksdale where I would spend the night.
I arrived back in Greenwood at 11 A.M. on Sunday March 21, 2004 to attend the
Church Services. McArthur McKinley has been Pastor since 1987 and
welcomed me, the
Johnson Family, and other event visitors. On this day,
Pastor McKinley led 80 attendees
through a joyous celebration that included a
Gospel reading, prayers, local announcements,
a special tribute by Reverend
Steve Johnson, and song. The ten member choir was led by
Johnson and was accompanied on the piano by Mrs. Eloise Gray. I must say
Mrs. Gray could really lay it down with a strong left hand.
Immediately after the church services, a special dinner of deep
baked chicken, dressing, greens, yams, buttermilk cornbread,
peach cobbler, and sweet tea
was served at Hoover's Country
Hoover's Kitchen is located at 214 Young Street
in the Greenwood area known as "Baptist
Town". Sylvester Hoover is a gracious host, a
#1 Blues Fan, and the
Unofficial Mayor of Baptist
Town. Robert Johnson was living in
Town at the time of his death and often performed on the corner lot directly
from Hoover's Kitchen & Grocery. I suspect the area looks pretty much
it did during Johnson's time of the late 1930's.
The real treat for all was the impromptu Blues session that took place on
this same empty
corner lot while we were visiting. A power cord was
stretched out from someone's house
and the group started in. People just
appeared from the alleyways, houses, and from
up the street. This Blues
Band included Willie Gatewood, James Givens, Roger Johnson,
and P-Man. The Power of the
Blues came over us
all. Within minutes, Willie & Ann, Bill,
Dwight, Ollie, Buckethead, Pops, and others were
dancing and enjoying a sunny afternoon
in Mississippi with the blues.
Ollie's hat was put down and these musicians made a few bucks
much the same as
Robert Johnson did 70 years earlier on the same spot.
It seemed fitting that this
spontaneous event took place in the presence
of Robert's son
Claud, and Robert's
grandson Steve, along with the rest of the
Johnson family. Claud L. and
Steve Johnson live in Crystal Springs, MS
just 12 miles from Robert's birthplace
of Hazlehurst, MS.
On December 7, 2001, after a prolonged 10 year legal battle of ups and
Claud L. Johnson
was named legal heir of his father's estate by The
Court of Mississippi. Claud told
me that he had always known that
was his father. The difficulty was proving it in
Claud also told
me what the middle initial "L" stood for in both his
& his father's
but I promised never to tell anyone while outside of
the Little Zion
Graveyard. If you
ever run into me at the gravesite,
tell you the secret "Mississippi" truth!
Robert's life was one of mystery and legend, and the mystery continues
In addition to the Little Zion
gravesite on Money Road in
Greenwood, there are two
Payne Chapel MB Church at 32830 County Rd 167 in Quito, MS 32830 is three miles
Itta Bena and boasts a site. Take Hwy 82 to Hwy 7 to County Road 167.
Mount Zion MB Church on County Rd 511 outside of Morgan
City, MS 38946 is
another site. The Morgan
City site includes an impressive grave marker (cenotaph)
that was provided by Sony/Columbia
records and placed on April 20, 1991.
In 1990, Columbia
Records had released "The Complete
Robert Johnson. Needless to say, the release
turned into a big hit for
Johnson's music. The granite obelisk has inscriptions by
and Skip Henderson.
Take Hwy 82 to Hwy 7 & turn South thru Quito, MS.
Robert L. Johnson became known as the King of the Mississippi Delta Country
though he died tragically at the tender age of 27 and recorded only
29 songs in just two sessions.
Good Times, Good Food, Good Friends, Good Music
All in the area that gave
birth to the Blues.
St Louis Frank
March 21, 2004
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