“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Tupelo in Lee County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)

Shake Rag


Shake Rag Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Sandra Hughes, April 7, 2010
1. Shake Rag Marker
Inscription.  Marker Front:
Shake Rag, located east of the old M & O (later GM & O) railway tracks and extending northward from Main Street, was one of several historic African American communities in Tupelo. By the 1920s blues and jazz flowed freely from performers at Shake Rag restaurants, cafes, and house parties, and later from jukeboxes, while the sounds of gospel music filled the churches. The neighborhood was leveled and its residents relocated during an urban renewal project initiated in the late 1960s.

Marker Reverse:
Tupelo's blues legacy is perhaps most widely known for its influence on a young Elvis Presley, who lived adjacent to the African American neighborhoods of "Shake Rag" and "On the Hill." A local explanation for the origin of Shake Rag's name refers to people "shakin' their rags" while fleeing a fight. The term was also used to describe African American musical gatherings in the 1800s and early 1900s and may be related to Shake Rag's location next to the railroad tracks; prior to regular timetables, passengers would signal for the engineer to stop a train by shaking a rag. Gambling and bootlegging were
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commonplace in Shake Rag and although outsiders often regarded the area as dangerous, former residents proudly recalled its churches, prosperous businesses, and strong sense of community, a quality highlighted in Charles "Wsir" Johnson's 2004 documentary about Shake Rag, "Blue Suede Shoes in the Hood." Blues guitarists such as Willie C. Jones, Charlie Reese, "Tee~Toc," and Lonnie Williams played at Shake Rag house parties, on street corners, on a stage near the fairgrounds, and at the Robins Farm south of downtown, according to musicians who have stated that Elvis may have been especially swayed by the music of "Tee~Toc" or Williams.

Touring blues, jazz, and R&B acts performed elsewhere in town at more formal venues including the Henry Hampton Elks Lodge on Tolbert Street, the Dixie Belle Theater, the lounge at Vauhn's Motel on North Spring Street, and the armory at the fairgrounds (south of this marker). In the post~World War II era George "Bally" Smith, a multi~instrumentalist whose repertoire include big band jazz and rhythm & blues, led the most celebrated local band. His band members over the years include bassist Charles "Bo" Clanton, trumpeters Turner Bynum and Joe Baker, drummers James "Pinhead" Ashby and Steve Norwood, guitarists Willie "Shug" Ewing, Cliff Mallet, and "Guitar" Murphy, trombonist Fred Chambers, pianist Billy Ball, and saxophonists James Brown,
Shake Rag Marker side 2 image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Sandra Hughes, April 7, 2010
2. Shake Rag Marker side 2
Jerry Baker, Augustus Ashby, Pete Norwood, and Ben Branch, who directed the band at Carver High School. Bally also led the King Cole Trio~style group Three B's and a Bop, featuring Clanton, James Ashby, and vocalist Hattie Sue Helenstein. Bally's groups performed on radio stations WELO and WTUP, sometimes together with vocal group the Five Rockets, which included Sam Bell and Wayne Herbert, Sr.

Nap Hayes of Shake Rag was among the first Tupelo performers to record (in 1928 for OKeh Records). Other Tupelo area natives who have recorded blues, R&B, or gospel included Aarib and Marion Sparks, Benny Sharp, Willie Pooch, Lester and Willie Chambers of the Chambers Brothers, Riley (Richard) Riggins, Lee Williams of the Spiritual QCs, and Homemade Jamz Blues Band.
Erected 2009 by the Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 60.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African AmericansArts, Letters, MusicNotable Places. In addition, it is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 2004.
Location. 34° 15.459′ N, 88° 41.91′ W. Marker is in Tupelo, Mississippi, in Lee County. Marker is at the intersection of West Main Street and Franklin Street on West Main Street. Touch for map
Shake Rag Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Sandra Hughes, April 7, 2010
3. Shake Rag Marker
. Marker is at or near this postal address: 300 West Main Street, Tupelo MS 38804, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Shake Rag Community (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Tupelo Swamp / Plank Road (about 600 feet away); Shake Rag – A Way of Life / Shake Rag and Urban Renewal (about 800 feet away); Elvis Presley and Tupelo (approx. 0.2 miles away); The Iron Furnace / Front Street (approx. ¼ mile away); Tupelo Hardware (approx. 0.3 miles away); Sit-Ins Led to Civil Rights Act of 1964 / F.W. Woolworth (approx. 0.3 miles away); Lee County, Mississippi War Memorial (approx. 0.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Tupelo.
Regarding Shake Rag. The reverse of the marker includes pictures with the following captions:
Pianist Aairon "Pine Top" Sparks recorded the first version of the popular "Every Day I Have the Blues" in 1935; he and his twin brother, vocalist Marion or Milton "Lindberg" Sparks (pictured here in July 1934), were born near Tupelo in 1910 and moved to St. Louis around 1920.

This 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows the streets and buildings of Shake Rag.

The Chambers Brothers sang as a family gospel group in Lee County before moving to California in the 1950s. Their music
Shake Rag Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Sandra Hughes, April 7, 2010
4. Shake Rag Marker
was a blend of blues, gospel, sould, and rock. Riley Riggins (left) likewise left Tupelo for California, where he recorded as "Harmonica Slim."

Willie Johnson sang gospel in Tupelo before he began performing blues in Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, under the name Willie Pooch.

The Johen Lee Hooker song "Tupelo," also recorde by Pop Stables with Albert King and Steve Cropper, was inspired by a devasting tornado that hit Tupelo on April 5, 1936. More than 200 residents died, including many African Americans who drowned after being blown into Gum Pond, just northwest of Shake Rag. Hooker had relatives in Tupelo and visited a cousin here named Richard Cummings.

Benny Sharp, who led a rhythm & blues band in St. Louis during the 1960s, later became a preacher and returned to his hometown of Shannon, south of Tepelo.

This row of house is believe to have been in Shake Rag (photo by Walker Evans, courtesy Library of Congress (March 1936)).

Siblings Kyle, Taya, and Ryan Perry of Homemade Jamz were, respectively, just 15, 9, and 13 in 2007 when they recorded their debut CD, Pay Me No Minde, which featured the instrumental "Shaek Rag." Ryan's guitar instructor, Shannon native James, "Jabo" Harris, played in local groups the Soul Twisters and the Psychedelic Seven before formin his own family band, Jabo Blues.
Also see . . .
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 Video - - Unveiling of "Shake Rag" Marker ::. (Submitted on June 25, 2011, by Al Wolf of Veedersburg, Indiana.)
Credits. This page was last revised on August 30, 2017. It was originally submitted on April 9, 2010, by Sandra Hughes Tidwell of Killen, Alabama, USA. This page has been viewed 4,397 times since then and 59 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on April 9, 2010, by Sandra Hughes Tidwell of Killen, Alabama, USA.   3. submitted on May 11, 2010, by Sandra Hughes Tidwell of Killen, Alabama, USA.   4. submitted on April 9, 2010, by Sandra Hughes Tidwell of Killen, Alabama, USA. • Kevin W. was the editor who published this page.

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Feb. 22, 2024