Helena in Phillips County, Arkansas — The American South (West South Central)
The Blues Trail: Mississippi to Helena
The town emerged as a major center of culture and commerce in the Delta during the steamboat era and maintained its freewheeling river port atmosphere well into the mid-20th century. Cafes, night spots, and good-time houses flourished, and musicians flocked here to entertain local fieldhands, sawmill workers, and roustabouts who came off the boats ready for action. Many bluesmen ferried across the river from Mississippi or later motored across the Helena Bridge. Others came from elsewhere in Arkansas, up from Louisiana, or down from Memphis.
Helena was at one time home to Mississippi-born blues legends Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller), James Cotton, Honeyboy Edwards, and Pinetop Perkins, as well as to Arkansas natives Roosevelt Sykes, Robert Nighthawk, Robert Lockwood Jr., Frank Frost,
Soon after KFFA went on the air on November 19, 1941, Williamsonís broadcasts on “King Biscuit Time” brought blues to an audience that had seldom if ever heard such music on the radio. Up-and-coming bluesmen B.B. King, Albert King, Jimmy Reed, and Muddy Waters all tuned in to the lunchtime broadcasts from the KFFA studios, or on occasion from WROX in Clarksdale, advertising King Biscuit Flour and promoting their upcoming shows at local juke joints and house parties. The sponsor, Interstate Grocer Company, even introduced a Sonny Boy brand of corn meal. During Williamsonís extended stays away from Helena, drummer James “Peck” Curtis kept the program going with an assortment of band members. The show eventually switched to records instead of live music and continued with deejay Sonny Payne at the helm. Off the air only from 1980 until 1986, it still ranks as one of the longest-running programs in radio history. The Delta Cultural Center began hosting the broadcast in the 1990s.
Erected 2009 by the Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 88.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail marker series.
Location. 34° 31.37′ N, 90° 35.17′ W. Marker is in Helena, Arkansas, in Phillips County. Marker is at the intersection of Cherry Street and Missouri Street on Cherry Street. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 141 Cherry Street, Helena AR 72342, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. KFFA 1360 Helena (within shouting distance of this marker); Hernando De Soto (within shouting distance of this marker); The Battle of Helena (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Helena and The Trail of Tears (about 300 feet away); They Passed This Way Sacred Heart Academy (approx. 0.3 miles away); "the gun boat Tyler saved the day " (approx. 0.4 miles away); "Hell-in-Arkansas" (approx. 0.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Helena.
Categories. • African Americans • Arts, Letters, Music •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on January 23, 2012, by Sandra Hughes of Killen, Usa. This page has been viewed 871 times since then and 32 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. submitted on January 23, 2012, by Sandra Hughes of Killen, Usa. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page.
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