THE CAULDRON (Mississippi, 1890–1935)

Some fun facts:

Charley Patton               (b. circa 1891–Edwards, Hinds County)

William Faulkner            (b. 1897–New Albany)

Jimmie Rodgers            (b. 1897–Pine Springs)

Son House                     (b. circa 1902–Riverton)

Skip James                    (b. 1902–Bentonia)

Eudora Welty                 (b. 1909–Jackson)

Howlin’ Wolf                   (b. 1910–White Station)

Tennessee Williams      (b. 1911–Columbus, moved St. Louis, 1918)

Robert Johnson             (b. 1911–Hazlehurst)

Sonny Boy Williamson   (b. circa 1912–Sara Jones Plantation)

Muddy Waters                (b. 1913–Jugs Corner, Issaquena County)

B.B. King                        (b. 1925–Berclair (Indianola)

Bo Diddley                     (b. 1928–McComb, moved Chicago 1934)

Sam Cooke                   (b. 1931–Clarksdale, moved Chicago 1933)

Elvis Presley                 (b. 1935–Tupelo, moved Memphis 1948)

In a space of 45 years, one of the least populated, least affluent, least educated regions in the United States (or, for that matter, the history of the industrialized world)–a region the most talented citizens were evidently desparate to leave (hence the traces here of the Memphis/St. Louis/Chicago diasporas which would be even more pronounced if we extended the trend to adulthood and cross-indexed it with opportunity)–produced about eighty percent of the world’s most important blues performers, the century’s greatest American novelist (Faulkner), the century’s greatest American playwright (Williams), the “father of country music” (Rodgers), the “man who invented soul” (Cooke), the “king of rock ’n’ roll” (Presley) and the auteur of the world’s most famous backbeat (Diddley).

I’m not the person to do it, but somebody really should write a book that explains why this was–or was not–a statisical fluke.


4 thoughts on “THE CAULDRON (Mississippi, 1890–1935)

  1. Great blog entry. If you want to talk about the fertile grounds if talents of the south, please do not forget about the incredible Harper Lee (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) who still resides in her home state of Alabama or Margaret Mitchell (“Gone With the Wind”) who also remained in the south her entire life. Many other writers have been born of the south, but in terms of the time period of the early 20th Century, Lee and Mitchell would fall into the same time frame.

  2. It’s definitely a fascinating mind game. (Speaking of statistical improbabilities, Harper Lee and Truman Capote being childhood neighbors is pretty far out there–same for Myrna Loy and Gary Cooper, who grew up together in a small town in Montana). To be honest, I was planning a long post on the significance of it all and the more I wrote the more convoluted my thinking got so I decided to take a “just the facts” approach and leave the thinking to somebody else!..I mean southern music and southern writing were so influential in the 20th century, you could put a pin in the map anywhere in the south and come up with at least a few important names but this list still struck me as being almost ridiculously improbable.

    Just curious but, as you’re a TKAM fan, have you ever been to Monroeville? They’ve got a very nice museum dedicated to Lee and Capote.

  3. Yes, I knew about Truman Capote who is from my home state of Louisiana. Harper Lee was very influential in Capote’s writing even going so far as basing some characters on her personality. I do love TKAM but have never been to Monroeville. The only part of Alabama I visit regularly is Orange Beach most summers.

    As far as musicians are concerned, we also are home to Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as Lloyd Price, I am sure you are aware. NOLA has there own special brand of R&B but with a little bit of jazz to spice it up. There is definitely a rich history here of talented folks.

    Since losing the War, the south has always had trouble finding its true place in America. Prior to the Civil War, we were considered the ‘civilized’ part of the country. Even before the Great Depression, during the years of Reconstruction thru and beyond the Industrialized Revolution, the south continued to struggle to gain some form of recognition and respect. How much can change when you are not on the winning side, huh??? haha

    Since this “Golden Era” of talented southern artists, we have had so many other artists, both in music and literature, who continue to make the part of the country very, very proud. Thanks for the insight.

  4. No doubt New Orleans and Memphis are the goldmines–long, long list of musical greats associated with both. But those are big cities, with thriving musical communities in particular. I was fascinated by MS because the population base was so small and isolated and the economic straits (partly a legacy of the Civil War of course) so generally daunting.
    The museum in Monroeville is definitely worth making a trip to see if you’re ever anywhere near (it’s in the southwestern part of the state not too far above Mobile/Pensacola).. They converted the courthouse where Harper Lee’s father practiced law and which was copied for the movie. Bang up job of honoring both writers. I’ve lived within three hours of the place since the mid-seventies and when I finally went over there a few years back it was one of the happier mini-vacations of my life. (Needless to say I’m a huge fan of both writers so it appears we have one more bit of good taste in common!)

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