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CLARKSDALE: TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

Tennessee WilliamsHome 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 Blues and Delta Street Signs, Clarksdale.sweltering 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 Senate.

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 Williams Park Tennessee Williams Park
 
 

The Cutrer Mansion

Angel Statue, Tennessee
Williams Park

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  
 

Blues Club Posters

Cutrer Mansion Historical Marker

Ground Zero Blues Club

 

 
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