By Milo Reed
As part of the grant from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area (MDNHA), the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund (MZMF) hired public historian Milo Reed to prepare the National Register of Historic Places nomination for Alonzo Chatmon’s Juke Joint in Glen Allan, Mississippi.
( To read her more about the Chatmon Juke Joint project, please click HERE)
I have always loved blues music.
I grew up hearing my grandparent’s play their collection of blues cassettes during long trips in their Chevy conversion van in the 80s, where I was exposed to artists like B.B. King, Magic Sam, Johnnie Taylor, & Clarence Carter. As a native of the north suburbs of Chicago, I was fortunate enough to visit Maxwell Street as a child, where I purchased a bootleg cassette copy of “the Simpsons Sing the Blues,” which set me on the path to collecting music.
I began buying legitimate blues recordings while working at a used record shop, where I learned about labels like Sun, Chess, Vocalion, Specialty & Alligator. I was able to buy relatively inexpensive blues, R & B, & rockabilly box sets, which allowed me to hear how much of a debt modern rock music owed to artists like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Little Richard, & Chuck Berry.
My tastes in modern music progressed, and I found myself listening to newer genres based on blues music such as doom metal, desert rock, garage rock, glam, & proto punk. Many artist in these subgenres cited the same musicians that I had been hearing since I was a kid traveling around the county with “Down Home Blues” blasting out of the stereo as influences. I continued attending the Chicago Blues Festival, but this time with friends instead of family.
Illinois to Mississippi Connections
Though I grew up in Chicagoland, I have long standing family ties to Mississippi, my mom’s parents are from a small town in Kemper County & I visited occasionally when I was young. I have many fond memories of days filled with fishing & exploring the land where my ancestors farmed for several generations. I spent much more time in the state from the early aughts, after my grandparents moved to north Mississippi. While attending Southern Illinois University in Carbondale I would frequently visit Booneville & the surrounding areas during holiday breaks, checking out sites like the Elvis Presley house in Tupelo.
After completing my B.A. in History at SIU 2005, I decided to attend the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where I became much more familiar with the Hill Country Blues tradition. Though I first heard about R.L. Burnside & Fat Possum Records when I was working at a record shop, I became very familiar with large of a subgenre of the blues it was. I was able to see Cedric Burnside lead his other family members in carrying on his grandfather’s tradition of live blues performance. Friends loaned me recordings from Junior Kimbrough as I got to see his son David perform on the Square frequently. I also got to see slide guitar master Kenny Brown & other disciples who came to North Mississippi to learn from these masters of the form. I learned about the rich tradition of fife & drum bands, exemplified by practitioners like Othar Turner. After earning my M.A. in History, I moved to Portland in 2009 & continued to visit Mississippi periodically while living in the Pacific Northwest.
I have always wanted to study blues music. I ostensibly attended the University of Mississippi in order research & write about blues music, but I had few opportunities to do so. Since moving to Portland I have sharpened my research skills during my time volunteering as a researcher and working at Multnomah County Library, this is a great opportunity to return to a topic that I am intensely interested in.
Though Portland was historically a hotbed for jazz music, the blues scene in the Northwest is relatively new. Since moving to Portland I have instead focused on the history of the Black community, food, soccer, wartime public housing, public & art; working on several oral history projects, NRHP nominations, research projects, museum exhibits, roundtable & panel discussions related to those topics.
I’m also a very mediocre musician. I originally picked up guitar while I was in high school, and though I am limited in my abilities to play, I have always listened to blues music get a better sense of how to solo expressively. I have also found it useful to understand how the blues is structured in order to understand rock music.
As a professional historian, one of the things that motivates me is a desire to bring attention to sites related to African American history. Because of disinvestment and displacement, many sites associated with Black history are often destroyed or repurposed beyond recognition. The Chatmon juke joint is remarkable in that it retains or has regained many of the characteristics that make it historic and it is still used as a place to play music is astonishing. I am interested in assisting Mr. Morganfield and the Glen Allan community in preserving this space, but also promoting the space if they desire to do so. This is a great opportunity to add this site to the list of places that people visit when they want to learn about the Black blues tradition in the Mississippi Delta. Glen Allan’s connection to Clifton Taulbert’s book make this project even more enticing and maybe this project could be the beginning of a broader appreciation of the history of this community beyond the borders of the Magnolia State