To all the Friends of The
On September 26, 1937 the Famous Blues woman, Bessie Smith died in Room #2 of this building, after a car accident near the Friar's Point, MS turnoff on Highway 61. Bessie's right arm was torn loose at the elbow. The Packard auto was driven by Richard Morgan, an Uncle of Lionel Hampton. Smith was originally buried in an unmarked grave in Philadelphia, however in 1970, Janis Joplin put up one-half of the money for a tombstone at Mount Lawn Cemetery in Sharon Hill, PA. Jack Gee was Bessie's husband at the time, however they were separated for seven years prior to Bessie's death. The front portion of the now Clarksdale, MS Hotel previously served as the G.T. Thomas Hospital. Bessie Smith, known as "The Empress of the Blues" was earning $2,000 per performance at this time in 1937. Bessie also had her own private railroad car and an entourage of 45 people. Rap/MTV star Nelly probably receives more than $2,000 per performance but does Nelly have a posse of 45? In any case, Bessie was a huge star in 1930's, when $2,000 a show was a fortune!
Momma Hill only allowed men in her Hotel, and all the men staying there were considered her sons. There have been many Bluesmen & Notables through the years. John Lee Hooker stayed in room #6 and used to practice on the front steps. Other guests have been Robert Nighthawk, Sonny Boy Williamson II, C. L. Franklin, Howlin' Wolf, Sam Cooke, Joe May, and John F. Kennedy Jr. - yes, THAT John F. Kennedy, Jr.!
If you're in Clarksdale, stop and visit with Zelena, you'll not find a more friendly host and a place more steeped in the Blues. Zelena's father, "Rat" had been carrying on in the Blues since 1997 and in 2003 received the Early Wright Blues Heritage Award. You can see the history of the award and other winners by clicking here.
Ike Turner lived in room #7 a number of years and the song "Rocket 88" was written within the hotel. Momma Hill was a professional seamstress and embroidered "88" on the handmade red ties for the men and also designed and made each dress for the Ikettes. Ike's song "Rocket 88", inspired by the fast Oldsmobile Rocket 88 car of the time, was beat heavy and a boogie rhythm tune that along with the car became a #1 hit in 1951.
Here's a 1951 Rocket 88 belonging to St Louis Frank.
Rat expanded the LOBBY in March - 2011, that's with help from Joyce & Z.
For about 9 years during the 1970's Rat ran a popular joint called the Subway Lounge in the basement. Rat still has the speakers and console as shown in the picture to the left. According to Rat, the Joint Was Jumpin' with a full house and a regular bunch. The area has now been converted to guest rooms and the outside entrance is closed.
February 7, 2008 begins The Year of the Rat
The Year of the "Rat" ended in 2009, however Rat himself carried on until his death on March 28, 2013.
In memory of Nath Davis, a 30 year resident in room #8 of the Riverside Hotel. If you have been a guest at the Hotel, you probably met Nath as he was a friend to all and everyone liked his easy going personality. He always remained calm, cool, and collected. Nath assisted Rat from time to time and took time to make the guests feel at home. I don't think you could find a guest that wouldn't say something nice about Nath. Nath had been ill during 2006 & 2007 and had been receiving chemotherapy in Jackson, MS. After two days in the Clarksdale hospital, Nath died on July 19, 2007 at the age of 52. Over 200 people attended the services at Jerusalem Baptist Church and the burial at McLaurin Memorial Gardens in Lyon, MS. Nath is missed by all.
Page is provided by Nico Productions of MojoRat LLC