Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Nesbit, MS
It was not an easy walk from Mt. Olive Church Baptist Church to the adjoining cemetery located in the small hamlet of Nesbit, Mississippi. The hilly landscape was pitted with holes, yet ninety-two-year-old “Doll” Callicott beamed with excitement. With each step she took with her metal walker, she became more determined to visit the grave of her husband and to view the brand new granite headstone marking his significance in the development of popular music around the globe. Supported ever so carefully by the tall, fair-haired Kenny Brown, “Doll” reached the summit and gazed for the first time at the words inscribed deep in stone:
For both Doll and Kenny, who viewed Joe Callicott as a father figure, it was indeed a moment charged with emotion. Watching her face, he tentatively awaited Doll’s reaction and smiles slowly grew across their faces. “He was a great, great man,” exclaimed Brown, recalling fondly the man who taught him to love music and to play guitar.
In fact, Callicott recorded only a handful of songs before World War II. On September 23, 1929 at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN, Garfield Akers recorded “Cottonfield Blues—Part I” and “Cottonfield Blues—Part II” with Joe Callicott on second guitar. On September 25, 1929 in Memphis, TN; Joe Callicott sang and played guitar on Mississippi Boll Weevil Blues, but it was never issued. On February 20, 1930 in Memphis, TN, Joe Callicott sang and played guitar on Fare Thee Well Blues and Traveling Mama Blues. His records were advertised in such publications as the Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov 30, 1930.
“Although he probably realized only about $300” from the record company,” says Wardlow, “it meant instant acceptance. He was treated like the president of the United States.” According to Wardlow, Callicott was born in DeSoto County, grew up playing music as a teenager, and working in the fields and levee camps. Drawn to Memphis by record companies set up in the Peabody Hotel, he accompanied another musician initially rather than record solo. “He came back later and made a recording. He was a real solid guitar man; played Memphis style guitar,” Wardlow explained, in the same vein developed by Memphis songster Frank Stokes, who the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund also memorialized in June 2016 after Memphis author Robert Gordon contacted current MZMF director DeWayne Moore. A headstone now adorns the long unmarked grave of Stokes in the abandoned Hollywood Cemetery in Memphis.
Callicott was close to both Bobby Ray Watson and the younger Kenny Brown, explained “Doll” Callicott. She admitted that she was much like a mother to Brown, and their relationship had indeed continued since Joe’s death in 1969. In 1995, however, she lived in Memphis with cousins, several of whom quickly brought up potted flowers she had been saving for the occasion. Joe’s vintage guitar even came out into the light for the dedication of his new marker.