On the way down, we took a detour and headed off across the Mississippi into Arkansas to visit the delightful town of Helena which has a very special place in blues history.
For blues musicians in the 1930s and 1940s, Helena was the place to be. Cherry Street and Walnut Street served as Helena’s main daytime business district. But at night, the business was entertainment. With saloons, cafes, billiard halls, gambling parlors and juke joints, Helena was a wide-open river town and blues music filled the air.
Though we only spent a day there it was sufficient to have a pleasant walk around visiting the small but friendly Sonny Boy Williamson museum and the Delta Cultural Centre located in the old railway station. The railway station fascinated me as a former rail enthusiast and I recently found a photo of the station in the 50's. The Sonny Boy Williamson museum is also the main office for the famous annual King Biscuit Musical Festival. You can checkout some great photos of the festival here.
One person who is synonmous with blues in Helena is Sonny Payne. Sonny Payne has been on the radio in Helena, Arkansas, USA since 1948. His live broadcasts of Sonny Boy Williamson, Frank Frost, Howlin' Wolf and others influenced young artists from Memphis south through the Delta. He still broadcasts every week for the Delta Cultural Centre.
He has recently been nominated for induction to the The Blues Hall of Fame. Please take time out to nominate him because his outstanding work to promote blues music over such a long period is well worthy of recognition.