When the idea of the sim was conceived it was decided that we would like to recreate various places of historical significance to the blues. There are many of these sites scattered across the delta and we only had so much room on the sim so we were fairly selective in choosing a few of them. One of these sites was the Tutwiler train station. Tutwiler has been celebrated as “the birthplace of the blues”.
Looking out the front door of the Riverside you can see our approximation of the station. No photos exist that I could find so when we built the place we used a generic plan for the station of what many stations looked like back then.
This is the place that WC Handy first encountered the blues. As described in his 1941 autobigraphy, Handy was waiting for a train and trying to catch some sleep when he heard a “A lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags; his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages. As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of a guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars. The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly. ‘Goin’ where the Southern cross’ the Dog.’ The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I ever heard.
The tune stayed in my mind. When the singer paused, I leaned over and asked him what the words meant. He rolled his eyes, showing a trace of mild amusement. Perhaps I should have known, but he didn’t mind explaining. At Moorhead, the east and west bound met and crossed the north and south bound trains four times a day. This fellow was going where the Southern railroad crossed the Yazoo Delta railroad, (nicknamed the YD or “Yellow Dog”), and he didn’t care who knew it.”
W.C. Handy was by no means a Delta bluesman. He was a music student as a child. He played the coronet too; not normally thought of as an instrument of the blues. Typically, he toured with dance bands playing minstrel and tent shows all over the South. He led an orchestra in Clarksdale from 1903 to 1905 that traveled throughout the Delta and beyond. He only started to include blues into his repertoire after hearing the man in Tutwiler.
W.C. Handy eventually ended up in Memphis, Tennessee, about 1909. Handy was responsible for publishing some of the most famous music in blues, such as, Memphis Blues, St. Louis Blues, Yellow Dog Blues, and Beale Street Blues. For a time Handy’s name was honored with the annual W.C. Handy Awards, The Blues Foundation’s equivalent to the Grammy’s. They have since been renamed as the Blues Music Awards.
Although no one is absolutely sure of the date that Handy met the blues the U. S. Senate accepted 1903 when it declared 2003 the centennial “Year of the Blues.”
As an aside the Tutwiler area is also the burial site of Sonny Boy Williamson II, one of the blues’ most important harmonica players.