CLARKSDALE - When Clarksdale’s first historical
Walk of Fame marker is dedicated to superstar Sam Cooke
on April 4, the event will include a reminiscence of
the celebrity and the New World District ’s rich
Following the bronze plaque’s unveiling on Issaquena
Avenue outside the New Roxy Theatre where Sam Cooke
once performed, a reception and a “I Remember
Sam” program will be held in the renovated Greyhound
Panelists remembering the celebrity include area residents
and members of the Cooke family traveling to Clarksdale
on a bus with the Sam Cooke Fan Club. The event is free
and the public is encouraged to participate.
“Sam Cooke came to our house several times, because
Early was his sponsor,” recalls Ella Wright, widow
of Clarksdale’s legendary radio broadcaster Early
Wright, who was a tireless organizer of gospel programs.
“Sam and the Soul Stirrers performed at Higgins
(High School) and later at George H. Oliver School,”
“He was a nice and friendly young man –
not stuck up like some celebrities,” she said.
As Mississippi’s first African-American disc jockey
broadcasting as “The Soul Man” on WROX Radio
each weekday night for 52 years, Early Wright shared
similar interests with Sam Cooke.
Both were rooted in gospel.
However, Cooke’s crossover to soul with “You
Send Me” skyrocketed an internationally prominent
career crowned by induction in the Rock n’ Roll
Hall of Fame while Wright continued to champion both
genres by promoting gospel and blues/soul concerts on
Walking a narrow line, Wright featured interviews with
Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, and Bobby Rush in the first
half of his show followed by two hours of messages from
evangelizing preachers, choirs, church and obituary
announcements and directions about where to deliver
fried chicken for funeral dinners.
“Sam Cooke had a wonderful voice, and always
ended singing ‘I’m Going to Leave You in
the Hands of the Lord,” said Ella Wright.
Alice Green, secretary for Century Funeral Home, remembers
the excitement of hearing Sam Cooke perform.
So does Yvonne Stanford, library director at Coahoma
Community College, who attended concerts with her mother,
Josephine McClinton, at George Oliver featuring the
Soul Stirrers and also the Staple Singers.
“Sam Cooke was so handsome,” says Stanford.
Green says, “I grew up belonging to Hickory M.B.
Church on D-36 before you get to Roundaway; I came to
town to hear Sam Cooke sing in one of the Clarksdale
Coahoma county roads once were numbered by county beats,
according to Jesse Ivy of the County Road Department,
who explains that New Africa Road to Roundaway was Road
No. 36 in D or Beat 4 in the 5-beat system.
Henry Dorsey, retired fine arts chairman at Coahoma
Community College, spent his childhood in the heart
of the New World District watching a lively procession
of music celebrities including Sam Cooke visiting Clarksdale.
“He stayed at Miss Alice’s Boarding House
on Yazoo, and the Crest Hotel or Bates Hotel on Paul
Edwards,” Dorsey said.
“Those places including Woods Drug Store, the
Savoy Theatre and others on Edward’s Alley and
Hen’s Alley, are gone now,” he said.
Retired educator and former owner of the Rivermount
Lounge Blues Club Melville Tillis has memories of Sam
Cooke and “The Singing Children” practicing
on a Yazoo Avenue porch.
“Later, Julius Guy and I tried to stop the demolition
of that house on Yazoo,” continued Tillis, who
once played trumpet in Ike Turner’s hometown band.
The pair also tried to purchase the New Roxy Theatre
on Issaquena and convert it into a gospel academy.
The Walk of Fame marker program is being sponsored by
the Clarksdale/Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce to
honor great citizens who have made significant contributions
with national and international impact in entertainment,
music, film, sports, literature, art, education, civil
rights, and history.
The plaques will be located near a site of historical
significance associated with the honoree, and eventually
will become part of a walking tour of downtown Clarksdale.
If no downtown site is appropriate, marker sponsorships
may be purchased by interested individuals or businesses.
The second dedication will honor blues pioneer Son
House of Lyon, who was a mentor for many musicians including
Muddy Waters. The dedication is scheduled for April
18 on the sidewalk outside Cat Head Delta Blues
and Folk Art on Delta Avenue.
Nominations of honorees are solicited from the community-at-large
and submitted to the Walk of Fame Committee, Box 160,
Clarksdale, MS 38614.
Press Release from the Walk of Fame Committee, Panny
Mayfield, Publicity: firstname.lastname@example.org