Shelby in Bolivar County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)
Henry Townsend, the only blues artist to have recorded during every decade from the 1920s to the 2000s, was born in Shelby on October 27, 1909. A longtime resident of St. Louis, where he was hailed as a patriarch of the local blues scene, Townsend died on September 24, 2006. Other performers from the Shelby area have included singers Erma Franklin, Jo Jo Murray, the Kelly Brothers, and Hattie Littles, jazz legend Gerald Wilson, and bandleader Choker Campbell.
Henry Townsend, a master guitarist and pianist, played an integral role in the vital St. Louis blues scene of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. His earliest years were spent in Shelby and then near Lula; the family was in Cairo, Illinois, when Townsend ran away from home and settled in St. Louis as a preteen. He made his recording debut in 1929, and during the 1930s he recorded in the company of leading blues artists including Roosevelt Sykes, John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, and Mississippi-born Big Joe Williams and Walter Davis. A prolific and spontaneous composer, Townsend claimed credit for writing the first
Townsend continued to record with Davis after World War II but began working more outside of music as a hotel manager and debt collector. In 1961Townsend recorded his first album for folklorist Sam Charters, and over the next decades he toured, recorded several albums, and mentored younger artists in St. Louis. He received a prestigious National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985. In 2008 he was awarded a posthumous Grammy for his participation on the album Last of The Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen - Live in Dallas, which featured fellow nonagenarians Robert Lockwood, Honeyboy Edwards, and Pinetop Perkins.
Shelby was also the birthplace or childhood home of a number of performers who achieved later fame in Detroit, Chicago, and California. Erma Franklin (1938-2002), older sister of Aretha Franklin, recorded the first version of “Piece of My Heart,” later popularized by Janis Joplin. Singer Hattie Littles (1937-2000), once billed as the “New Queen of the Blues,” and saxophonist-bandleader Walter “Choker” Campbell (1916-1993) both recorded for the Motown label group in Detroit. Trumpeter-bandleader Gerald Wilson (b. 1918) became an elder statesman
Henry Townsend made his first recordings for the Columbia label, including “Mistreated Blues”, in Chicago on November 15, 1929. He traveled to Grafton, Wisconsin, for his second session for Paramount Records in 1931, and it was on a return trip to Grafton that he died seventy-five years later. He had gone to Grafton to be the first inductee on the city’s Paramount Walk of Fame.
Henry Townsend at the National Downhome Blues Festival in Atlanta, 1984
Henry Townsend, shown above during the filming of
Shelby maintained a reputation as one of the Delta’s most active towns for blues entertainment thanks to clubs and juke joints such as Billings Lounge, to Do Drop Inn, the Windy City Blues House, and Blues Unlimited.
Erected 2009 by Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 97.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African Americans • Arts, Letters, Music • Entertainment. In addition, it is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail 🎶 series list.
Location. 33° 57.069′ N, 90° 46.086′ W. Marker is in Shelby, Mississippi, in Bolivar County. Marker is at the intersection of North Broadway Street and West 2nd Avenue (State Highway 32), on the left when traveling north on North Broadway Street. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Shelby MS 38774, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 6 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Shelby Depot (within shouting distance of this marker); Decker-Malatesta Post 0113 (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); AKA Mobile Health Project (approx. 5.2 miles away); Delta Health Center (approx. 5.2 miles away); a different marker also named AKA Mobile Health Project (approx. 5.2 miles away); T. R. M. Howard (approx. 5.4 miles away); Friendship Clinic (approx. 5.4 miles away); Site of Mound Bayou Oil Mill & Manufacturing Company (approx. 5.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Shelby.
Also see . . . Henry Townsend (musician). (Submitted on August 15, 2020, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee.)
Credits. This page was last revised on August 16, 2020. It was originally submitted on August 15, 2020, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 38 times since then and 5 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on August 15, 2020, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.