The Mississippi Blues Trail
Along the Coast - Part 1
- This month - take a virtual tour of the Mississippi Blues Trail, with one of the most interesting stops right here in Bay St. Louis!
The Mississippi Blues Trail
The name evokes smoky blues dives, crooning singers, and wailing guitars. Created by the Mississippi Blues Foundation, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to education about the roots of blues music, the Blues Trail commemorates Mississippi’s most treasured archive, the stories of the birth of the blues (and, by extension, the emergence of rhythm and blues, or R&B, and rock 'n’ roll music as well).
The Blues Trail currently consists of 184 iconic locations, mostly in Mississippi, that were endemic to the growth of blues music as a unique American genre (a few sites are in other states with which Mississippi has had extensive musical interchange, such as Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee).
Blues on the Coast
According to Wikapedia, the famed "chitlin' circuit" is the name given to the string of performance venues throughout primarily the southern U.S in which African American musicians and comedians performed during the age of racial segregation. (The name derives from the soul food item “chitterlings,” or stewed pig intestines.)
And from the Blues Trail website, The Mississippi Coast, long a destination for pleasure seekers, tourists, and gamblers developed a flourishing nightlife during the segregation era. Dozens of clubs and cafes here rocked to the sounds of blues, jazz, and rhythm & blues.
Moreover, in the last twenty or so years, the casinos and the Gulf Coast Blues and Heritage Festival (in Pascagoula in September) have added to a grand resurrection of blues, R&B and soul entertainment on the Gulf Coast. A new wave of blues and soul stars have come from all parts of the country to perform at clubs and casinos in Bay St. Louis to Biloxi and beyond.
Here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there are at least four locations marked on the Mississippi Blues Trail, including spots in Gulfport, Biloxi, and one right here in Bay St. Louis. In fact, one of the most interesting spots on the Blues Trail is the 100 Men Hall, a currently operating blues venue that is drawing exciting acts from the Coast, New Orleans, and elsewhere.
Bay St. Louis
The 100 Men Hall was built in 1922 by the fraternal organization One Hundred Members’ Debating Benevolent Association. (The initials D.B.A. have been known to indicate Death and Burial Associations, and the group provided burial services to its members.) The Hall, along with the local churches, was the center of the African American social scene in Bay St. Louis. Events and fundraisers of all types from plays and pageants to wedding receptions and dances took place at the hall.
During the 1940′s, 50′s and 60′s, many of the region’s greatest blues, rhythm and blues, and soul music artists performed at The 100 Men Hall, and it was a regular stop for many of the artists on the “chitlin’ circuit.” Many of the greatest stars during the heyday of New Orleans’ R&B music scene performed at the Hall, including James Brown, Big Joe Turner, Etta James, Ike and Tina Turner, Guitar Slim, James Booker, Professor Longhair, Ernie K-Doe, Earl King, Deacon John, and Irma Thomas. (In fact, Irma Thomas’ first performance as a paid singer was at 100 Men Hall!) Gulf Coast performers such as Harry Fairconnetue, Carl Gates and The Decks, Guitar Bo and The Claudettes, and the “shake dancer” Miss Dee also regularly performed at 100 Men Hall.
After several incarnations, including as a disabled veterans’ hall and a bingo hall in the 80s, the building was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It was purchased and restored to its original state by Jesse and Kerrie Loya, The 100 Men Hall operates today as an ongoing live blues locale, still drawing crowds to see danceable live music, just like in the 1930s through 70s! In 2011, this local landmark was recognized for its role in the history of the blues, anda historical Blues Trail marker was dedicated at the hall.
100 Men Hall owner Kerrie Loya says she has been thrilled with the success of the Hall since it re-opened, and is proud of its legacy and its inclusion on the Blues Trail. The Hall’s Blues Trail marker, she explained, is one of just a handful of commemorative markers in the state that are attached to an actual building, rather than for example a street corner or area of town. The building itself, restored to its original condition, has much to do with evoking the ambience of the Coast’s blues past, she said.
In the past few years, musicians and acts that have performed at 100 Men Hall have included Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Little Freddie King, Marcia Ball, Deacon John, Eric Lindell, and local favorites Pat Murphy Band and Guitar Bo and Ms. Dee. The Hall also attracts lesser known blues acts to the Coast – for example, an all-female Japanese blues band, Pink Magnolia – in its tradition of increasing the Coast’s exposure to all sorts of blues music.
According to Loya, the 100 Men Hall will release a vinyl LP at the end of May (yes, vinyl!) featuring seven songs recorded live at the Hall in the past three years. With the assistance of a grant from the Mississippi Development Authority/Tourism, the album will be released in a tri-fold cover with original cover art, liner notes and photography from local artists. Loya said that there is already a waiting list for the LP. The 100 Men Hall is planning a listening/premiere party in conjunction with the record release (come back to the Cleaver for more news about that event!) For more information, or to purchase the LP, contact Kerrie Loya at Kerrie@100menhall.org.