Cooke Marker Dedication to Feature Historic ‘I Remember Sam’ Panel

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 cultural history.

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 Bus Station.

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,” she continued.

“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 the radio.

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 churches.”

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: pannywriter@yahoo.com 662-621-4157.

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