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
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
The Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival, a favorite event among blues enthusiasts around the country, began as the King Biscuit Blues Festival in 1986, welcoming back former King Biscuit Entertainers Robert Lockwood and Pinetop Perkins for the first of many annual appearances, along with a variety of other acts including perennial local favorites Frank Frost, Lonnie Shields, Sam Carr, and CeDell Davis.
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° 31.412′ N, 90° 35.166′ W. Marker is in Helena, Arkansas, in Phillips County. Marker is on Cherry Street north of Missouri 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 (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); A Great Upheaval A Union Stronghold in Confederate Arkansas (about 400 feet away); Phillips County Goes to War (about 400 feet away); The Battle of Helena (about 400 feet away); They Passed This Way (about 500 feet away); Helena and The Trail of Tears (about 500 feet 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 September 1, 2017. This page originally submitted on January 23, 2012, by Sandra Hughes of Killen, Usa. This page has been viewed 950 times since then and 33 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. 11, 12. submitted on August 26, 2017, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page.