Jessie Mae Hemphill Historical

Jessie Mae Hemphill Historical (HM1XXF)

Location: Senatobia, MS 38668 Tate County
Country: United States of America

N 34° 35.588', W 89° 58.101'

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One of the few female performers of country blues, Jessie Mae Hemphill (c. 1923 - 2006) was a multi-instrumentalist who performed in local fife and drum bands before gaining international recognition in the 1980s as a vocalist and guitarist. Her grandfather, Sid Hemphill, was a leading musician in the area, and his daughters, including Jessie Mae's mother Virgie Lee, all played drums and stringed instruments. She is buried here at the Senatobia Memorial Cemetery.


Jessie Mae Hemphill, who struck a unique chord with blues fans due to her colorful personality and attire and her choice of instruments, represented deep and rich traditions in the Senatobia area. Her great-grandfather, Dock Hemphill, was a fiddler who was born a slave, and her grandfather, Sid Hemphill (c. 1876-1963), played fiddle, guitar, banjo, drums, fife, mandolin, organ, and quills. Folklorists Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress and Lewis Jones of Fisk University documented Hemphill's broad repertoire at a recording session in Sledge in 1942. Lomax, who recorded music around the world and returned to record Hemphill in 1959, later recalled that encountering Hemphill's fife and drum music was the "main find of my whole career."

Sid Hemphill's daughters, Rosa Lee, Sidney, and Virgie Lee, were all musicians, and when Jessie Mae was a small girl her grandfather inspired her to take up guitar, harmonica, and drums. During the 1950s she sang briefly with bands in Memphis, but most of her early musical experiences were local. Folklorist George Mitchell, who included chapters on her and her aunt Rosa Lee Hill in his book Blow My Blues Away, recorded her in the late
'60s. Her first 45 rpm single, produced by Dr. David Evans, was released on the University of Memphis' High Water label in 1980. Hemphill subsequently toured the U.S. and Europe, recorded several albums, and won several W. C. Handy Awards for traditional blues. She played drums behind fife player Otha Turner on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and gained broader acclaim via her appearance in the 1992 documentary film Deep Blues. In 1993 Hemphill suffered a stroke that prevented her from playing guitar, but she continued to sing, and in 2004 she was featured singing and playing tambourine on the album Dare You to Do It Again, which featured many local musicians.

Other Senatobia area musicians who played in distinctive local folk traditions include many members of the extended family of Otha Turner, including his granddaughter and fife player Sharde Thomas; fife players Napolian Strickland and Ed Young; drummers Lonnie Young, Abe ("Cag" or "Kag") Young and R. L. Boyce; diddley bow players Glen Faulkner and Compton Jones; guitarists Sandy Palmer and Ranie Burnette (who was a major influence on R. L. Burnside); harmonica player Johnny Woods; banjoist Lucius Smith; and vocalist James Shorter, who recorded with Jessie Mae Hemphill. Artists who left the area and performed in more modern styles include guitarist Willie Johnson and bassists Calvin "Fuzz" Jones and Aron Burton, all of whom moved to Chicago; Wordie Perkins, guitarist with the Memphis band the Fieldstones; and Kalamazoo, Michigan, soul/blues vocalist Lou Wilson.
Series This marker is part of the Mississippi Blues Trail series
Year Placed2011
Placed ByThe Mississippi Blues Commission
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Monday, April 17th, 2017 at 5:01pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)16S E 227755 N 3831930
Decimal Degrees34.59313333, -89.96835000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 34° 35.588', W 89° 58.101'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds34° 35' 35.28" N, 89° 58' 6.06" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)662
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling North
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 2776 US-51, Senatobia MS 38668, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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