Memphis Minnie honored with Miss. Blues Trail marker

Published 4:50 pm Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Memphis Minnie, a renowned singer and songwriter and one of a few female stars who played guitar, is the latest performer to be honored posthumously with a Mississippi Blues Trail marker.

A sign noting her musical accomplishments will be unveiled Thursday at her gravesite at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery in the small town of Walls, about two miles south of Memphis, Tenn.

Minnie, born Lizzie Kid Douglas, was one of the premier blues artists of the 1930s and ’40s. She was known for her spirited, street-wise demeanor.

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“She is one of the first female blues legends that we have honored through this project and truly deserves to be a part of the trail,” Alex Thomas, blues heritage trail director, said in a news release.

In the early 1900s while living with her parents in Tunica and DeSoto counties in northwest Mississippi, Minnie began performing with Delta blues guitarist Willie Brown and others.

Douglas acquired the name Memphis Minnie when she became a recording artist in 1929, as part of a duo with her guitar-playing husband, Kansas Joe McCoy. The couple’s first recording session produced the classic song “When the Levee Breaks,” later made famous by Led Zeppelin. The song has most recently been heard as a theme song for documentaries on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans.

Minnie’s greatest fame was achieved in Chicago, where she and her last husband, Ernest “Little Son Joe” Lawlars, recorded and performed regularly. The two eventually moved back to Memphis in 1958.

Some of Minnie’s best known songs are “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” “Bumble Bee,” “What’s the Matter With the Mill,” “In My Girlish Days” and “Please Set a Date.”

After returning to Memphis, Minnie suffered a stroke and spent her final years unable to perform and living in a nursing home. She died at the age of 76 on Aug. 6, 1973.

In 1980, Minnie and Bessie Smith were the only two women elected to the inaugural group of performers in the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame. Minnie’s grave remained unmarked until the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund raised money for a tombstone in 1996.

The Mississippi Blues Commission plans to put up more than 100 markers across the state to help tourists trace the area’s musical heritage.