Friday, July 19, 2013

Resting in the Blues: The three graves of Robert Johnson

             Apparently Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson did more than sell his soul at the Crossroads. He split it three ways, kinda like Voldemort’s horcruxes in Harry Potter.
            Johnson has three gravesites in Mississippi.
            Robert Johnson blazed the blues trail, leaving us with some of the genre’s most important recordings, many of which influenced later musicians and helped developed other genres such as rock ‘n’ roll.
            Legend has it that his ambition drove him to meet the devil near Mississippi’s Dockery Plantation, where the devil tuned his guitar and endowed him with great talent in exchange for his soul. Today, visitors can easily find this “Crossroads” in Clarksdale, marked by a giant sign.
            Whether this story is true, you be the judge. Robert Johnson and the “Crossroads” has spurred numerous discussions over its origins and truth.
Robert Johnson's grave at Little Zion in Greenwood.
             The indisputable reality was that Robert Johnston died way too young, at the age of 27 in 1938 outside Greenwood, Miss. Where he’s buried is another mystery.
            The three gravesites of Robert Johnson in Mississippi are:
            Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Morgan City, where an obelisk headstone exists with a photo, discography, biography and the following inscription, “Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singers, his music struck a chord that continues to resonate. His blues addressed generations he would never know and made poetry of his visions and fears.” It’s believed Johnson was buried here in an unmarked grave and the market was later placed by Columbia Records.
            Payne Chapel Memorial Baptist Church in Quito, with a small headstone that reads, “Robert Johnson, May 8, 1911-August 16, 1938, resting in the blues.” An Atlanta rock group named the Tombstones placed this headstone here upon learning of it being Johnson’s burial site.
            Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Greenwood, a short walk from Tallahatchie Flats (see last week’s blog) is the most likely place. The story of his death near Greenwood seems to hold the most credence and there’s a copy of his death certificate floating around the Internet. The little cemetery next to a quaint church on the banks of the Tallahatchie River is nestled beneath trees and offers a nice headstone to the bluesman with a stone copy of his handwriting stating, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of Jerusalem. I know that my Redeemer liveth and that He will call me from the Grave.”
            Around his grave were items placed in reverence by fans. And a few empty whiskey bottles.
     Want to follow in Robert Johnson’s footsteps and solve the mystery yourself? Greenwood tourism offers a self-guided legacy tour. For a tour of Mississippi blues legends, follow the Mississippi Blues Trail

1 comment:

  1. I am the bluesman Watermelon Slim. I have been on my knees at the Crossroads, and been robbed, beaten and left for dead, hours after my first stop there (Hiroshima Day, August 6, 1999).

    I will be taking students there, as I occasionally do, in October, and I will also take them to his grave in Greenwood. I have recorded with Robert Johnson's great nephew, James Johnson, AKA Super Chikan, of Clarksdale, MS, where I also live. Okiesippi Blues is the title of the CD.

    The blues is a lowdown shakin' chill. Ain't never had 'em, I hope you never will...

    God bless us all and keep us safe,

    Watermelon Slim