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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

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

Sparta Opry

 
 
Sparta Opry Marker (Side 1) image. Click for full size.
By Tom Bosse, August 22, 2020
1. Sparta Opry Marker (Side 1)
Inscription.  (Side 1)
Formed in 1987 when three local musicians — Joe Lee Huffman, Willie Gene Huffman, and Robert Eaton — got together to play music and share supper, the Sparta Opry has become a community institution. Having offered more than 100 country, bluegrass, blues, and gospel performances some years, all staffed by volunteers, the Opry has become a beloved destination for residents of Chickasaw County and beyond.

(Side 2)
The Sparta Opry That a town with a population of under 200 would become the home of a Mississippi country music institution able to draw attendees of all ages from across the region was far from inevitable. That the volunteers who built and worked to maintain The Sparta Opry made it so is a testament to this community’s commitment to providing both entertainment and camaraderie. The Sparta Opry was born in the summer of 1987 when Robert Eaton invited Joe Lee Huffman and Willie Gene Huffman, who would get together to sing and play country music, to perform in his back yard and share a chittlin’ supper. Local musicians Walter “Buddy” Eaton and Jamie Myers quickly joined in. The
Sparta Opry Marker (Side 2) image. Click for full size.
By Tom Bosse, August 22, 2020
2. Sparta Opry Marker (Side 2)
supper shows became regular Friday night events, staged in an abandoned welding shed on the Eaton property. The band, which featured a mixture of traditional country, bluegrass and gospel, became known as The Sparta Ramblers. In the decades that followed, only one Friday night show was missed, due to an ice storm. Monthly Saturday gospel music shows were added to the schedule later.

Neighbors brought covered dishes to the show to feed the growing crowds, and soon Opry volunteers were serving soft drinks, hamburgers and ice cream on site. The Huffmans established a "no alcohol" policy to keep the Opry an all-ages, family-friendly operation, and it would be precisely that. Two years later, while raising money to construct the permanent building that became the weekly get-together’s home, the founders incorporated the Sparta Opry. The early board members, including William “Sonny” Scott, J.W. Crowley, James “Red” Callahan, Robert Huffman, Kenny Scott, Joe Lee Doss, George Thompson, Joe Lee Huffman, Jamie Myers, Walter "Buddy" Eaton, Joe Eaton, and Robert Eaton, were all volunteers. Opry funding was based on board member dues, food sales and donations; admission remained free. Work for the operation–whether on the music, the food, or maintenance of the Opry’s home–was entirely voluntary, and donated. Spirited fundraising events to support
Sparta Opry Marker image. Click for full size.
By Tom Bosse, August 22, 2020
3. Sparta Opry Marker
those in need locally, particularly senior citizens, became regular Opry events.

Two decades on, the Opry featured two house bands, the bluegrass Back Porch Pickers, and the country Drifters. Among the performers regularly featured were co-founder Britton “Spooky” Cole, a Delta blues specialist; Mack Banks, who had recorded rockabilly locally and in Nashville; and Joe Rickman, who had recorded rockabilly and fronted a classic country band. The musical mix proved as enticing to attendees as the mix of neighbors and friends.

(captions)
Rockabilly and bluegrass artist Mack Banks, from Columbus, Mississippi, had a local hit in 1956 on the Fame Label, based in nearby Houston. He later became a Sparta Opry regular.

Esther Eaton, Joe Eaton (pictured here), and Faye Huffman began serving food to Opry guests; the biscuits, chicken and catfish would become almost as big an attraction as the music, and, in the making, an equal ingredient of volunteer participation.

Sparta Opry charter members and mainstays, circa 1990: (rear left to right) Kenny Scott, Red Callahan, Joe Lee Huffman, Willie Huffman; (front) Spooky Cole, and Buddy Eaton. Cole, who is also shown at right, was a long-time favorite performer.

The Back Porch Pickers on stage at the Sparta Opry.

Designs associated with the Opry have been
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as homespun and self-constructed as the buildings that have housed it.

Sparta Ramblers at the beginning: Jamie Myers, Spooky Cole, Willie Gene Huffman, Walter"Buddy" Eaton, Robert Eaton, James "Red" Callahan and Joe Lee Huffman.

Photos courtesy of Kenny Scott, The Sparta Opry, Mississippi Humanitarian Council, and Horst Zimmermann. Research by Barry Mazor, assisted by Lisa Voyles.
 
Erected 2011 by Mississippi Country Music Trail. (Marker Number 10.)
 
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Arts, Letters, MusicEntertainment. In addition, it is included in the Mississippi Country Music Trail 🎶 series list.
 
Location. 33° 46.17′ N, 88° 59.565′ W. Marker is in Sparta, Mississippi, in Chickasaw County. Marker is on County Highway 419 0.7 miles east of County Highway 80, on the left when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Woodland MS 39776, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 9 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Old Trace (approx. 1.8 miles away); Parkersburg Depot (approx. 8˝ miles away); Booker "Bukka" White (approx. 8˝ miles away); 1927 Schoolhouse (approx. 8.8 miles away); Light Columns
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(approx. 8.8 miles away); Carnegie Library (approx. 8.8 miles away); Chickasaw County CSA Monument (approx. 8.8 miles away); Natchez Trace Through Chickasaw County (approx. 8.8 miles away).
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on August 27, 2020. It was originally submitted on August 26, 2020, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 47 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on August 26, 2020, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
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Jan. 25, 2021