My wife and I had decided to turn south from Interstate 40 toward our home in South Florida to find relief from the relentless heat throughout the country now. Crossing the massive, expanse of the Mississippi River below Memphis, we had booked a one night stay at a cozy motel in Tunica, Mississippi. Once one of poorest towns in America, it had become revitalized economically by the building of glitzy casino row along the river. Weary from our three month trek on the road, however, the need for nightclub excitement did not interest us tonight.
The thought of catfish entered my mind somehow with the muddy Mississippi River nearby. It seemed destined that this prophecy of Southern cuisine would lead us to a place steeped in American blues tradition, the “Hollywood Cafe,” For it was in this tiny establishment of seemingly no interest that Marc Cohn sat at an aging piano to record his Grammy hit, ” Walking in Memphis.” Taking his inspiration from Muriel Wilkins, a blues performer at this revered institution, Marc’s song beautifully captured both the beauty and tragedy of rural, Southern life along the river.
Taking a closer look at Tunica I began to realize the true meaning of blues music. Along the Mississippi River, an inviting air of affluence prevailed amidst the glittery towers of riverside casinos. Further inland along Route 61, however, it appeared that many residents in the surrounding black community of Tunica proper remained abjectly impoverished in shanty housing and strictly segregated from white society. While the beauty of the mighty Mississippi River and surrounding resorts captivated the eye’s attention, the slow pace of change for the community as a whole affected me emotionally. Singing the blues then, I realized had found a musical outlet for expressing renewed hope in every cry of despair experienced here.