You might stop at the West Tennessee
Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville just for a break as you
travel along the Tennessee Music Highway. You might think it's a
visitor center. It
is. It is also so much more.
If you're a music fan, you will think you
stepped into a small corner of Heaven. The center is set up as a
series of small museums: West Tennessee Cotton Museum, The
Hatchie River Museum, Felsenthal Lincoln Collection and the one
that caught my attention the most, West Tennessee Music Museum.
I hadn't given much thought to some of the
great names in music that hailed from places other than Memphis
in West Tennessee. Here I realized what I had been missing. I
discovered a whole cadre of blues musicians.
"Sleepy John" Estes
from Brownsville, Tennessee and his band members; James "Yank"
Rachell, a guitarist and mandolin player, and Hammie Nixon, a
harmonica player. They were know as the Brownsville Bluesmen.
Sleepy John began performing professionally at the age of 19 and
continued until his death in 1977 at the age of 78.
He earned his nickname because of his habit of falling
asleep while playing. His innovative lyrics and crying style
made him a blues pioneer.
|Linzie Butler makes his
While in West Tennessee. I had the good
fortune to meet a great blues musician who played with "Sleepy
John," Linzie Butler.
Linzie hails from nearby Jackson ,
Tennessee. He might be found playing at the Heritage Center, one
of West Tennessee's Blues Festivals or performing at venues
around the world. That man can really make a blues harmonica
Eddie Arnold exhibit
||Carl Perkins exhibit
Denise Lasalle Exhibit
name musician from the area was Eddie Arnold who born in
Henderson, Tennessee. In 1934, at age 16, Arnold played his
first gig on WTJS-AM Jackson, Tennessee. From there on it's
musical history. Arnold went on to be a Grand Old Opry star and
was ranked 22nd on Country Music Television's 2003 list of "The
40 Greatest Men of Country Music.
an exhibit for Carl Perkins who also was born in a west
Tennessee town, Tiptonville. He lived his life in the spotlight
and traveled the world but died quietly in nearby Jackson,
Tennessee on January 19, 1998. His recording of Blue Suede Shoes
was part of what touched off the beginnings of Rock and Roll.
Another singer/songwriter I had never heard of before but after
listening to some of her music I was quickly converted is Denise
Lasalle, who currently lives in Jackson, Tennessee.
|Sleepy John's house and Flagg
She earned the title "Queen of the
Blues" but also is very talented in Rhythm and Blues, Soul, Pop
and even has a Country influence. Married, But Not to Each
Other, a #16 hit on the R
and B charts was included in the 1979 album, The Best
of Barbara Mandrell. Her cover version of My Toot Toot,
reached #6 in the UK. Her song Trapped By A Thing Called
Love in 1971 reached #1 on the national R&B chart. She was
inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011.
When I ventured out behind the museum, I
struck musical gold history again.
I was thrilled to be able
to explore 'Sleepy' John Estes Home and The Flagg Grove School.
You might ask, "What does the Flagg Grove School have to do with
music in West Tennessee?"
If I told you it was where Anna Mae Bullock
attended school, you still might shrug, "So what."
Well, Anna May, who was born around here in
Nutbush and attended the Flagg Grove School as a child,
metamorphosed into a music star anyone will recognize, Tina
|One of the Tina Turner exhibits
The school was sitting in a an old field
Outlaw-Clark, the center director, and a group of local citizens
gained possession of the old building and brought it on the
Heritage Center grounds in 2012. That year's annual Tina Turner
Heritage Days, held each year on the third weekend in September,
was a big success.
This year, the school house was restored and
officially opened for "Tina Turner Heritage Days."
told me how
much Tina helped make this newest exhibit a success." She had
contributed financially and with memorabilia, gold records and
costumes. Even her yearbook. They are all on display.
even sent her personal assistant Rhonda Graam to help. When
Rhonda came here she had never been here before. We traveled all
over Nutbush. Tina had sent a whole list of places 'I want to
know if this is still there. I want to know what's here'"
The school is also set up to show what it
was like going to an African American school in the 1940s and
Aside from visiting the museums and school,
there are many other musicians with roots in west Tennessee. You
will just have to go see for yourself.
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