Headstone Dedication of Blind Roosevelt Graves

In conjunction with the Ground Zero Blues Bar of Biloxi and the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund will dedicate a memorial to Blind Roosevelt Graves in Old Mississippi City Cemetery in Biloxi, MS at 5pm on August 10, 2024.
Immediately following the dedication ceremony, we will have live music, drinks, and food at the reception at Ground Zero Biloxi–814 Howard Ave, Biloxi, MS 39530.

https://www.groundzerobiloxi.com/

Thanks to MZMF Secretary Emily Hilliard, who recently visited the Gulf Coast and reached out to Daniel Givens, the Operations Manager at Ground Zero Blues Bar in Biloxi, MS. In 2018, the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund raised over $1,000 to memorialize Roosevelt Graves, but the onset of the Covid19 pandemic delayed the project.
This article contains newly discovered documents about his life and death.
RSVP to the Event
The Gulfport Herald, 1960
The Gulfport Herald, 1960

Our Sponsors

 

MAC LOGO
aha logo
MDNHA GLOW
GROUND ZERO

Blind Roosevelt Graves

Mississippi City Cemetery in Gulfport, MS

Staggering Blues Advertisement
Staggering Blues Advertisement

Lee Moise Roosevelt Graves was a guitarist who combined secular music and sacred tunes as a performing and recording artist. Music scholars credit him with waxing some of the earliest rock and roll recordings in 1936 in Hattiesburg, MS. Born in Jones County near Laurel, Mississippi, he and his brother Uaroy began playing juke joints in the early 1920s, and in 1929 they cut a number of ‘rocking and reeling’ spirituals for Paramount, all of which feature pianist Will Ezell.

The Graves brothers often performed on Front Street in Laurel, MS. The duo proved so popular that the crowds often blocked the road. Most of the time the brothers posted up in front of Lott’s Furniture Store, one of several many storefronts in cities all across south Mississippi. The owner was Reuben Lott, a native of southwest Alabama who attended college at North Manchester, Indiana. He enjoyed the large crowds that gathered to hear the musicians, because larger numbers of people in front of the store often translated into larger numbers of people who bought furniture. The performances sometimes attracted the attention of the local police, who intervened to break up the crowd. But the brothers had usually filled their cup full of coins before that time!

Guitar Boogie Advertisement
Guitar Boogie Advertisement
"Hittin' the Bottle Stomp" by the Mississippi Jook Band
“Hittin’ the Bottle Stomp” by the Mississippi Jook Band

In 1936 Paramount Records talent scout and Jackson furniture store owner H C Speir, who had been responsible for their 1929 recordings, located the Graves Brothers performing in a church in McComb, Mississippi, and arranged for them to do a second recording session in Hattiesburg at the Hattiesburg Hotel. To play piano in the session, Speir chose Cooney Vaughn, an influential live performer in Hattiesburg. They called the new combo the MISSISSIPPI JOOK BAND. The combination of Vaughn’s uninhibited piano style with the religious feeling and musical versatility of the Graves Brothers resulted in what was described as the beginnings of a new type of music, rock and roll. With Roosevelt Graves singing vocals and playing guitar, brother Uaroy Graves on tambourine and kazoo, and Vaughn on piano they recorded a number of songs, amongst which were the notable, “Barbecue Bust” and “Dangerous Woman” both featuring fully formed rock and roll guitar riffs and a stomping rock and roll beat. The Mississippi Jook Band continued to perform for while during the late 1930’s but then broke up. Piano player Cooney Vaughn performed weekly on radio station WCOC in Meridian prior to World War II.

In 1937, Roosevelt Graves married a woman named Mary, who subsequently relocated her husband to West Memphis, Arkansas, specifically the small community of Hulbert near the Mighty Mississippi River. He stayed in the Memphis area for a couple of years, but he and his wife moved to 730 West Natchez Street in Jackson, MS in 1939. In 1941, however, he lived at 719 West Natchez Avenue with his brother (who is listed as Evan Graves—both are “musician”) but Mary lived way over at 711 South Jefferson Street. Alex van der Tuuk suggests that Graves may have performed with two horn players, a guitarist and a bassist in the early 1940s.
"Woke Up This Morning {with my mind on Jesus)" by Roosevelt Graves and Brother
“Woke Up This Morning {with my mind on Jesus)” by Roosevelt Graves and Brother
1951 Jackson MS City Directory
1951 Jackson MS City Directory

Sometime in the 1940s, he moved back to Laurel with Mary. She died in the early 1950s, and Uaroy died in the late 1950s. 

Marriage Certificate of Roosevelt Graves and Elizabeth Woods

The Marriage Certificate of Roosevelt Graves & Elizabeth Woods

After the death of his wife Mary and brother Uaroy, Roosevelt Graves wound up in Hattiesburg, where he met a woman named Elizabeth Woods. She took him home to Gulfport, where they got married on December 9, 1960. In his last years, he joined the Baptist Church and sang in a male quartet. Someone even saw him perform in Chicago around 1962 at the Maxwell Street Market. 

The Death Certificate of Roosevelt Graves

He lived in Gulfport on 1503 21st Street, however, on December 15, when he suffered a heart attack. A doctor attended to his needs for the next fifteen days until he died on December 30. The doctor noted that diabetes contributed to his death. On January 6, 1963, Lockett Mortuary of Gulfport buried his remains in Mississippi City Cemetery. 

The death certificate of Roosevelt Graves
Obituary of Roosevelt Graves

in 2018, Gulfport attorney Jonathan Hilbun discovered the obituary in the Gulfport Herald.

Hilbun also discovered the obituary of his wife, Elizabeth Woods, who died in 1970.

Obituary of Elizabeth Woods, 1970

Old Palestine Cemetery

Gitano, Jones County, Mississippi

Several members of the Graves family were buried at Old Palestine Cemetery. No marker exists for Uaroy Graves.

Samuel C. Graves

Samuel C. Graves

L.V. Graves

L.V. Graves

Age 83

P. Graves

Age 83
Woodrow Graves

Woodrow Graves

Rev. Robert Graves

Rev. Robert Graves

Annie Graves

Annie Graves

Bertha L. Graves

Bertha L. Graves

Curtis Graves

Curtis Graves