“Muddy’s actual birthplace [was not Rolling Fork but] to the west and north of there… Issaquena, pronounced “Essaquena,” the initial “e” the only thing soft in this hard land.”
– Robert Gordon, biographer
Over the Summer of 1997, I traveled to the Mississippi Delta with my friend and television producer David Simon to research a bio-pic of Muddy Waters commissioned by Oprah Winfrey. This was about a decade before markers began appearing – courtesy of the Mississippi Blues Commission – to note where the greats had been born before their music circled the globe.
Naturally, we passed through Rolling Fork [population 2,500] which Muddy always claimed – both in interviews and lyrics – as his birthplace. Not sure where to start, we stopped at the Sharkey-Issaquena County Library on East China Street and asked the woman at the information desk for guidance.
We were the latest in a sporadic parade of blues pilgrims asking the same questions.
The elderly librarian walked us to the front of the building and pointed down the sidewalk toward a wooden gazebo, the sort of thing sold pre-fab and ready to go at the Home Depot.
“There,” she said. “That’s the only thing we have to let people know that Muddy Waters was from around here. And they only put that up because so many people came asking.”
Simon and I sat in the gazebo for a few moments and moved on. It wasn’t much later that Oprah pulled the plug on the Muddy movie. Waters’ Blues Trail marker was unveiled in Rolling Fork in December, 2008. I’m not sure what has become of the gazebo.
Rafael Alvarez can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org