The Riverside borrows it’s name from the Riverside Hotel, located in Clarksdale, Mississippi and has been in use as a hotel since 1944. Some of you may have noticed a Mississippi Blues Trail marker outside, on the right side of the building. It is the fourth marker placed on the trail. Now, our Riverside is much different than the real hotel and this is due more to Second Life practicalities and the fact we came up with the name the Riverside after we had built the club. Our club is loosely based on the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale. Parts of the front of the building are similar and then after that the build is pure fiction
There are many stories surrounding the blues at this location. Originally, the hotel was a hospital. At least the front section of the hotel as it is today was used as the G.T. Thomas Hospital. This was where Bessie Smith died. On September 26, 1937, Bessie Smith died in Room #2 of the hospital, after a nasty car accident near Friar’s Point on Highway 61.
Bessie Smith, was known as “The Empress of the Blues” and was as big a name as there was at the time. Bessie was earning $2,000 per performance at the time, had her own private railroad car and an entourage of 45 people. She was a huge star but that notoriety didn’t help her in this case.
There is a story out there that says she was taken to a white hospital first where she was turned away from a whites-only Hospital. This has since been discredited. It was the G.T. Thomas Hospital, a black hospital. She was admitted, but died anyway. In fact, the Dr. on the scene of the accident was quoted as saying that “”The Bessie Smith ambulance would not have gone to a white hospital, you can forget that.” Dr. Hugh Smith told Albertson. “Down in the Deep South cotton country, no ambulance driver, or white driver, would even have thought of putting a coloured person off in a hospital for white folks.” The story of what happened on this day is quite amazing really and can be found here.
It was shortly after this that the hospital was taken over by Z.L. “Momma” Hill and converted to a hotel in 1944. “Momma” Hill only allowed men in her Hotel, and got the nickname “Momma” by treating all of these men like they were her children.
Ike Turner lived in room #7 for a few years. Turner wrote and rehearsed his song “Rocket 88” here which became a hit for Jackie Brenston. “Momma” Hill was reportedly a good seamstress and embroidered “88” on handmade red ties for the men and also designed and made each dress for the Ikettes.
In 1947, Robert Nighthawk married Hazel Momon who he stole from Ike Turner a couple years earlier. During this time, Nighthawk was staying at the Hotel with her on one side and keeping his girlfriend Ethel Mae conveniently down the hall. Nighthawk left his suitcase in his room just before he died and it is supposedly still there.
The Riverside Hotel is still a family business and is now owned by Frank “Rat” Ratliff, the son of the “Momma” Hill. He grew up there, and knew all of the blues legends that came and stayed and for a while Ratliff ran his own juke joint in the back of the building.
The Riverside Hotel would be a good place to visit and stay if you go to Clarksdale as it is within a mile of Clarksdale’s legendary “crossroads,” the Delta Blues Museum, Ground Zero Blues Club, and the former WROX radio station.