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Newton in Newton County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)
 

Newton County Blues

— Mississippi Blues Trail —

 
 
Newton County Blues Marker (front) image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Mark Hilton, October 20, 2019
1. Newton County Blues Marker (front)
Inscription.  Newton County has a dual claim to blues fame, first as the birthplace of several historical figures and later as the site of an important blues event, the Chunky Rhythm & Blues Festival. Newton County natives include record businessman H.C. Speir (1895-1972); blues singers Willie Nix (1918-1991), Andrew Brown (1937-1985) and Prez Kenneth (1933-1995); and bassist Lamar Williams (1949-1983) of the Allman Brothers Band. In the 1980s and ‘90s many top national blues acts appeared at the Chunky festival on the Richardson farm.

Reverse
Newton County has had several native sons who contributed to blues history, but all moved away at an early age and became associated with other areas. For decades only one performer was identified in blues literature as having roots here: Chicago singer and bass player Kenneth Kidd, known professionally as Prez Kenneth. According to the state’s Vital Records files, he was born Kennis Kidd in Decatur on December 29, 1933; he cited Newton as his birthplace. He moved several times and ended up in Chicago in 1956. There he took up music, and even though he performed only on a part-time basis
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he still developed a following in collectors’ circles on the strength of his 1960s records, including “Devil Dealing.” He died on June 15, 1995.

Willie Nix (legally Nicks), an eccentric singing drummer, had his heyday in the early 1950s when he had a radio show in West Memphis and recorded for Sun, Chance and other labels in Memphis and Chicago. His career dissipated after he spent time in prison and then drifted around the country, finally settling in Leland, Mississippi, where he died on July 8, 1991. He told interviewers he was born in Memphis but official documents place his birth in Union on August 6, 1918.

Andrew Brown claimed Jackson as his hometown but he was born in Newton County on February 25, 1937. When he was nine his family moved to Chicago. Brown, a multi-instrumentalist, played blues, jazz, R&B and gospel in Chicago and its suburbs. His recordings included songs that were covered by other bluesmen, some valued collectors’ items, and albums released on European labels. On December 11, 1985, he died in Harvey, Illinois, where he had lived since 1962.

Lamar Williams, an acclaimed bassist with the Allman Brothers, Sea Level and other bands that mixed blues with rock and R&B, grew up in Handsboro (now part of Gulfport), but he was born in Decatur on January 14, 1949. He sang with his father Lemon Williams’ gospel group before he and
Newton County Blues Marker (reverse) image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Mark Hilton, October 20, 2019
2. Newton County Blues Marker (reverse)
his friend Johnnie Lee Johnson (Jaimoe) played in soul bands on the coast and later joined the Allman Brothers. Williams, a Vietnam veteran, succumbed to cancer on January 21, 1983.

Charles Evers, born in Decatur on September 11, 1922, had a multi-faceted career in politics, civil rights and business, including work promoting blues as a festival sponsor and manager of WMPR radio. In the 1920s and ’30s, many Mississippi blues artists were able to make records thanks to Henry C. Speir, who owned a record store in Jackson and acted as a “talent broker” for record companies. Speir was born in Prospect on October 6, 1895. He died on April 22, 1972.

Ted Richardson was the key figure behind the annual Chunky Rhythm & Blues Festival, which began in 1985. The festival brought in performers from around the nation over the years, and in 1989 the Newton County board of supervisors honored Richardson for his contribution to the local economy.
 
Erected 2018 by the Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 202.)
 
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African AmericansArts, Letters, MusicEntertainment. In addition, it is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail series list. A significant historical date for this entry is January 14, 1949.
 
Location. 32° 19.239′ 
Close-up of photos on reverse side. image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Mark Hilton, October 20, 2019
3. Close-up of photos on reverse side.
N, 89° 9.782′ W. Marker is in Newton, Mississippi, in Newton County. Marker is at the intersection of South Main Street and Cedar Street, on the right when traveling north on South Main Street. Located at the old train depot (Now Chamber of Commerce). Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 128 S Main St, Newton MS 39345, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 10 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Grierson's Raid (within shouting distance of this marker); Confederate Hospital (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); McElroy-Hoye House (approx. ¼ mile away); Doolittle C.S.A. Cemetery (approx. 0.8 miles away); Hickory (approx. 8.1 miles away); Sherman at Decatur (approx. 8.8 miles away); Medgar Evers (approx. 8.8 miles away); Lynching in America / Lynching in Newton County (approx. 9.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Newton.
 
View of marker looking east towards old Newton Train Depot. image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Mark Hilton, October 4, 2019
4. View of marker looking east towards old Newton Train Depot.
View west towards Main Street. image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Mark Hilton, October 20, 2019
5. View west towards Main Street.
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on July 31, 2023. It was originally submitted on October 20, 2019, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 211 times since then and 12 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on October 20, 2019, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.

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Feb. 29, 2024