is where you hang your childhood. Tennessee Williams
The emotional dialogue
in the plays of Tennessee Williams and the passion-driven vocals
of Mississippi Delta blues music are a natural fit. Recent
Broadway revivals of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A
Streetcar Named Desire have underscored the
southern settings of Williams's dramas with live performances of
Delta Blues during scene changes. At least one prominent member
of the playwright's family encouraged the art of belting the
blues from the steps of his plantation. Williams liked to quote
his great uncle John Sharp Williams, a Delta native and
Mississippi politician, who declared as he departed the U.S.
Senate: I'd rather be a hound dog and bay at the moon from
my Mississippi plantation than remain in the United States
During the early
twentieth century, Clarksdale was nicknamed the "Golden Buckle
in the Cotton Belt." By the time Tennessee Williams was three,
his family moved to the prosperous town from Columbus,
Mississippi, on the eastern side of the state. His maternal
grandfather Walter Dakin, the family patriarch, became the
rector of St. George's Episcopal Church for sixteen years.
Clarksdale provided the tapestry of stories, characters and
settings for some of Williams's most memorable plays. The wide
green landscapes of the Delta that surround Clarksdale are
described by Big Daddy in Cat as "the richest land this
side of the Valley Nile."
Clarksdale sits atop Highway 61, a famous
pathway through Delta flatlands. Blues singer Bessie Smith died
in 1937 from injuries she suffered in a car accident on the
highway. Today 61 is considered a byway to "ground zero" for the
Delta Blues. Actor Morgan Freeman co-owns the Ground Zero Blues
Club in Clarksdale where the musical form was nurtured. Across
the street from the club, an Illinois Central train depot has
been transformed into the Delta Blues Museum.
The Cutrer Mansion
Angel Statue, Tennessee
Tennessee Williams Park
As a boy in Clarksdale, Tennessee Williams
was dazzled by the lavish entertainments hosted by Blanche
Clark, the daughter of the town's founder, and her husband J.W.
Cutrer at their mansion built in 1916. The playwright even used
the Cutrer name in many of his plays including The Glass
Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. During the
1940s, the Cutrer Mansion became a Catholic school. The Parish
decided to sell the property in 1998. The Mansion was moments
away from destruction by a wrecking ball when local citizens
rescued it. Today the Cutrer Mansion flourishes as a Delta
destination for tourists and special events including art
exhibitions. A permanent display of Mansion archives tells of
Cutrer Family members who played prominent roles in the
Mississippi Delta’s storied history.
In his poem The Couple, Tennessee
Williams writes, It's all so wide in the Delta and so level!
The seasons could walk across it four abreast! Clarksdale
has dedicated an elegant park for all seasons to the playwright
who spent his childhood in the land of the blues. The Tennessee
Williams Park is overseen by an angel, a wistful reminder of
Summer and Smoke.
Blues Club Posters
Cutrer Mansion Historical Marker
Ground Zero Blues Club
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