Between 1890 and 1927 the Grand Opera House in Meridian, Mississippi, provided east Mississippi and west Alabama with varied entertainment, ranging from operas in a variety of languages to theatrical entertainment and minstrel shows. This long-closed opera house, with its High Victorian architectural style, re-opened in September 2006.
Visual and Performing Arts
The music called the blues that emerged from Mississippi has shaped the development of popular music in this country and around the world.
Turn on the radio. You might pick up some rock with some tough guitar riffs – or some rap. But put on Robert Johnson’s recording of “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” and you’ll hear it all – set down in the 1930s by a man who combined elements of the music he heard with the genius that he got from God knows where – maybe the devil, if you want to believe the legend.
Mississippi is properly famous as the home of the blues and of the first star of rock and roll. It is also the home of Jimmie Rodgers, described by many as “The Father of Country Music.” Rodgers had two other nicknames during his career, “The Singing Brakeman,” which referred to his work on trains, and “America’s Blue Yodeler,” which described one of his distinctive contributions to country music.
When William Hollingsworth Jr. arrived in Chicago in 1930 his head was filled with a pragmatic, far-from-airy dream. As his chums back in his hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, trained for jobs as clerks, lawyers, businessmen, or engineers, he fancied success as a commercial artist.
1935: Elvis is born
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935, in a two-room shotgun house in East Tupelo, then a separate municipality that some called the “roughest town in north Mississippi.” Though poor, Elvis’s parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley, were not unlike many others in Mississippi at that time, for the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. The unemployment rate in the United States in 1935 was 20.1 percent.
George E. Ohr (1857-1918) has been called the first art potter in the United States, and many say the finest. Ohr was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, the son of young German immigrants, Johanna Wiedman and George Ohr. Both Alsatians, the Ohrs had moved to Biloxi after a brief stop in New Orleans, their port of entry in 1853. George Ohr Sr. established the first blacksmith shop in Biloxi and later opened the first grocery store there. His son, George Edgar Ohr, would grow up to be a flamboyant, dedicated potter and a memorable figure in his hometown.
In the late 1940s in Indianola, Mississippi, a young man named Riley King was singing and playing guitar with his friends in a group called the “Famous St. John’s Gospel Singers.” They played in churches around the Delta and even went to the stations in Greenwood and Greenville and sang on the radio – they were that good.
Ruby Elzy was a sweet-voiced soprano from the hills of northeastern Mississippi who became a star of Broadway, radio, and the movies in the 1930s. She sang everywhere, from Harlem's Apollo Theater to the White House, and she created a highly acclaimed role in one of the greatest American operas ever written, Porgy and Bess.
Ruby Elzy overcame poverty and prejudice to become one of the most illustrious singers of her generation. Yet for many decades after her tragic death in 1943 at the age of 35, she was largely forgotten.
- Previous page
- Page 2