Hollywood Cemetery in Memphis, TN
This project was initiated by “invisible Memphians” who asked Robert Gordon to work with DeWayne Moore, of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, and design an appropriate headstone to mark the grave of Frank Stokes. Moore conducted research on the life and music career of Stokes, and he consulted with the veteran blues scholars of the Real Blues Forum, specifically Bob Eagle and Alex van der Tuuk, who helped discern the earliest document that contained the birthdate of Stokes.
“A Monumental Task,”
by T. DeWayne Moore
In early 2016, I had been charged with the monumental task of digging up every bit of historical information ever published and previously unavailable on Memphis musician Frank Stokes, locating his unmarked grave in the very large and abandoned Hollywood Cemetery, commissioning a fitting grave marker to adorn his final resting place on behalf of two popular individuals who wished at the time (and still do until further notice) to remain anonymous, and organizing its dedication services at the end of June. I was fortunate enough to get Memphis author Robert Gordon, legendary photographer Dick Waterman, and Stokes’ grandson Nathaniel Kent to speak at the dedication–which made the sweltering heat of the day bearable and the unveiling of the monument much more “fitting.” The personal stories of his grandson and Mr. Waterman made it more special indeed, but the surprise appearance of Stokes’ 96 year-old daughter, Helen Kent, made it almost “perfect.”
At first, however, it seemed as if I had made a grievous mistake. As more and more people gathered in the minutes before the official dedication, and I distributed programs and introduced myself to each of the excited and curious individuals who attended the event, I didn’t notice a vehicle pull into the entrance and stop in front of the veiled marker. The driver stepped out of the car, marched promptly up to me, and queried, “Are you the one responsible for this?”