Although the African American community of New Albany has been small in number, it has produced many citizens of distinction. In the fields of blues, rhythm & blues, and gospel music, the names of Sam Mosley, Bob Johnson, Billy Ball, the Rev. Leon Pinson, and Elder Roma Wilson are known around the world. Mosley and Johnson, who launched a prolific creative partnership in 1967, performed together for 31 years and wrote songs for many of the top artists in blues.
Sam Mosley & Bob Johnson drafted their own hometown success story by utilizing their skills as performers, producers, and songwriters throughout their long tenure together in New Albany. As Mosley & Johnson, the team recorded several albums of blues and southern soul in the 1980s and '90s for the Muscle Shoals Sound and Malaco labels, but found a more lucrative niche as songwriters for Malaco artists Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Bland, Little Milton, and others. They recorded their first album, Mississippi Mud, on their own Sabo label in 1971, as Sam and Bob & the Soulmen. They also recorded in the 1970s for Polydor under the name Mojoba.
Sam Mosley was born in the Beaver Dam community on March 30, 1946, while Robert A. "Bob" Johnson was born in New Albany on March 4, 1946. Mosley's father, sharecropper Joe
Mosley, played mandolin in a string band with Sam's uncles, Bud and Theodore ("Shoat"). In 1959 Joe's sons, Jamie, Sam, and Ralph, began performing as Jamie & the Dynamics. Sam left Mississippi for several years and served in Vietnam, but when he returned home in 1967 he hooked up with Johnson, an old schoolmate who was leading a band called Bobby Johnson & the Messengers. Although neither had formal musical training, they later learned the ins and outs of music arranging and producing when they worked with the vaunted Muscle Shoals studio band in Alabama. After Johnson died of a heart attack onstage at a Verona, Mississippi, performance on August 22, 1998, Mosley and Bob's brothers Willie and Miles continued to perform as the Mosley Johnson Band.
New Albany native Billy Ball, a pianist-saxophonist, shared Mosley and Johnson's approach by blending blues with soul music, R&B, and funk, but took a different path, establishing himself in Indianapolis, Indiana. He sang gospel with a family unit, the Ball Quartet, before joining the Tupelo band of George "Bally" Smith in the early '50s. He formed his own group, Billy Ball & the Upsetters, in 1957. After moving to Indiana, Ball assembled a new band of Upsetters, taught school, and recorded several 45s which are much sought-after among funk collectors.
Another musical lineage that has been
traced back to New Albany is that of the Morganfield family who lived here in the 1800s. Dave Morganfield was one of several family members born into slavery who were enumerated in the first post-Civil War census here in 1870, when New Albany was still a part of Pontotoc County. His grandson, McKinley Morganfield, born in Issaquena County, went on to worldwide blues fame under the name Muddy Waters, and a number of other Morganfields were active in gospel music.