Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bill Steber: a photographic essay of the Mississippi Delta

Folks, I am on a journey through the Mississippi Delta, stopping at levee camps to hear the lonesome holler of a mule skinner, down to the  banks of the river to watch sinners bathe in the glory of the Lord, at the Parchman Penitentiary to hear the drive of steel and the call and response work songs that helps the prisoners make it through the long, hot, hard day; I'm rolling and rattling down Hwy 61 in my jalopy, past endless cotton fields, to a lonesome juke joint shanty damn near collapsed, where the men and women get down low to the music, where corn whisky is served, and the folks forget the hard times, on this moonlit night, where the blues are moaned, and the floor shakes, and the wall vibrates. I am sanctified by this new journey through the Delta. My journey started recently while reading Alan Lomax's "The Land Where the Blues Began," written so tenderly,  passionately, and knowledgeably, that I entered this world fully, even went to bed dreaming about the poor sharecroppers and evil big daddy, and always yearning for the music - pure and raw, the spirit of America. I became aware of Fred McDowell, Bessie Jones, and countless other singers, devouring everything, and in my reverie, stumbling upon the photography of Bill Steber, who in the late 1990s photographed the rich culture and tradition of the Mississippi Delta. It's so surprising to see a small handful of folks still steeped in century-old African -American traditions. I ain't  getting off this journey anytime soon. My next road trip will be along Hwy 61, through the Mississippi Delta. Will I still find the blues, the barrel houses, the spirituals?  If you're a fan of the  blues, or rock n roll, I recommend that you check out the rest of Bill Steber's photo essay here.
tent revival, Clarksdale, MS, 1994.
Cag Young, Senatobia, MS 1993
Baptism, Moon Lake, MS, 1995.
Rosetta Patton Brown, last surviving child of early blues legend Charlie Patton. Duncan, MS, 1996
Guitar Evangelist, Cora Fluker. Marion, MS, 1996.


  1. these photos are so evocative, wow.

    darin and i drove hwy 61 through the delta on our big cross country zig zag road trip in 2007. it was as lush and dreamy and old and sad and haunted as i could ever have hoped. but it was a sunday so NOTHING was open, no juke joints, no nothin. just a lot of wrinkled old folks waving from their rocking chairs on their collapsing front porches. i could feel vines growing tangled in my heart and there were crickets and wooden bridges and river reeds and ramshackle shanties. and always forever the blues.

  2. Thank you for the wonderful description of Hwy 61, darlin. It's a shame nothing was open.

  3. Thank you for sharing these, they're so beautiful.
    I haven't been to Mississippi in long time, and I'm itching to return too. Part of my family is this old line from a little town just to the East of real Delta country, near Tupelo (my great grandfather was, no kidding, Elvis' dentist when he was young!). It's such a fascinating place to be.

    1. Dakota,

      Your lineage is so fascinating. I can't believe that your great grandfather was Elvis' dentist. too cool!


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