A major storm threatened to move the dedication of Charlie Burse’s headstone indoors until about 2:30 on Saturday afternoon, March 9, 2019. The rain stopped, however, and at around 4:00 pm the sun came shining down onto the water-logged Rose Hill Cemetery. By the time Christian Stanfield, of the Side Street Steppers, delivered his welcoming address to the seventy people who braved the inclement weather to attend, the sky was clear, blue, and bright. Without a cloud in the sky, we had an amazing backdrop for the blessing and prayer of Pastor Leonard Dawson, the lone caretaker of the abandoned cemetery, who Mt. Zion Memorial Fund affiliate Bill Pichette tracked down in early 2018 to help organize the rehabilitation of the burial ground.
The blessing was followed by several speakers, including Memphis writer Tom Graves, National Jug Band Jubilee board member Michael Jones, the grandchildren of Charlie Burse, Cynthia and Perdido Burse, and Alan Orlicek, the Arcola stonemason who made the marker that everyone came to dedicate to a stalwart of the Memphis Jug Band.
The unveiling of the headstone was followed by musical performances by David Evans and the Last Chance Jug Band, Arlo Leach, Bill Steber and the Jake Leg Stompers, Moses Crouch, the Side Street Steppers, Tony Manard and Nancy Apple, all of whom joined together form the finale performance of “Stealin, Stealin’” to close out the dedication and adjourn to the reception across town at the Midtown Grille.
It was an amazing event that almost never happened due to weather, but we made the right decision and stuck to the original plan, which proved a fitting end to a project that stands as an example of how the goals of community engagement, cemetery restoration, and the memorialization of musicians buried in unmarked graves are achievable with some patience, trust, serious research, and a little faith that the sun will coming shining through in the end.
Arlo Leach led a group of musicians in the performance of “Stealin’ Stealin'”