Fans turn out for Handy marker
by Paisley Boston
Dec 08, 2013 | 1774 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
County officials, local residents and people from throughout the state, came out to honor W.C. Handy during the unveiling of his recent marker in front of the Cleveland – Bolivar County Courthouse on Thursday.
County officials, local residents and people from throughout the state, came out to honor W.C. Handy during the unveiling of his recent marker in front of the Cleveland – Bolivar County Courthouse on Thursday.
Cold rain and dropping temperatures Thursday did not stop individuals from attending the dedication ceremony honoring the "Enlightenment of W.C. Handy” at the Bolivar County Courthouse in Cleveland.

"I was really pleased with the turnout despite the rain. We had several people who traveled from out of town. I really appreciate them braving the weather," said Tourism Director for the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce Kelli Cotton.

"I really appreciate the support of the community and we are continuing to grow the Blues Trail Marker program in the community," she added.

People came from various parts of the United States to take part in the unveiling of the second W.C. Handy marker to be placed in front of the courthouse.

According to Mississippi Blues Commissioner Dr. Luther Brown, even if both markers encompassed the same information then they both would still hold historical significance.

The marker placed at the courthouse on Thursday held a slightly different significance than the one that had been there – "The Enlightenment of W.C. Handy" marker explains the origin of Handy's significance to the blues.

"The marker is so important because it sheds some new light on the story of W.C. Handy and his enlightenment to the Blues from the steps of the courthouse in Bolivar County," Cotton said.

According to Brown, the maker received its title because the courthouse was where Handy realized that people paid more to listen to the blues than his well trained hired orchestra.

"I don’t want to say that it was about the money but in a way it was," Brown added.

Handy had no intentions of composing and publishing blues when he arrived in the Delta in 1903.

He came to the Delta with ambitions of writing marching songs but he was intrigued by the blues.

"My own enlightenment came in Cleveland, Mississippi," Handy wrote in an early manuscript, titled "Father of the Blues."

"I was conducting the orchestra in a dance program when someone sent up an odd request for us to play some of ‘our native music’," added Handy, who died in 1958.

According to Brown, it is very important that story about be told.

"Blues fans will want to know about this particular incident and so we decided to make it known by placing the marker at Handy's origin of enlightenment. That’s where he first realized that people wanted to listen to this type of music and would pay to hear it," Brown added.

Sen. Willie Simmons offered remarks during the ceremony by saying, "There is no other place in the United States that can say that they have this type of legacy."

"To see these types of markers going up assures me that the Mississippi Delta is progressing and moving towards greatness. The historical markers that have and are being placed around the Mississippi Delta help in making the state to become one of the greatest tourist sites in the world," said Simmons as he pointed to the marker.

During Brown's remarks said that Mississippi is the birthplace of American music because the fathers of blues, country and rock and roll were all Mississippians.

"Cleveland played a huge role in shaping the musical heritage of Blues and I am proud that the marker is being placed here in Cleveland. I think that it is historically significant and I do think that it will draw visitors into our city," added Brown.

According to Cotton, the marker is also significant to tourism within the county.

"The markers give a bit of a historical element to our music story," said Cotton.

"Since we now have 14 Blues Trail Markers, people coming in to visit the Grammy Museum can also explore the blues in its birthplace. I think that it is really important to tell the story and I think that it will be an added bonus for individuals coming in who love music," she added.

The Mississippi Blues Trail, created by the Mississippi Blues Commission, is a project to place interpretive markers at the most notable historical sites related to the growth of the blues throughout the state of Mississippi.

The trail extends from the border of Louisiana in southern Mississippi and winds its way to Memphis.

Several out of state markers, where the blues had significance, were also erected.