Shiloh M.B. Church in Ashland, Mississippi
Memphis Country Blues Society
In 2017, Dr. Augusta Palmer reached out to the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund while making a documentary film about the Memphis Country Blues Society (MCBS), and she wanted to memorialize one of the artists that performed at the Memphis Country Blues Festival (MCBF) in the 1960s. The members of the MCBS referred to the artist as Nathan Beauregard, but historians had compiled very little information about him over the past 50 years, and the myths associated with his alleged age of over 100 years and re-emergence as a performing artist served as a poor replacement for actual knowledge about the African American experience in Memphis and his native Benton County, Mississippi. By compiling the published and unpublished research of scholars as well as mining official government documents and newspaper articles, the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund discovered that his real name was Nathan Bogard, and he died in 1970 at the age of 78. On May 30, 1970, the Brittenum Funeral Home of Holly Springs, Mississippi buried his remains at Shiloh M.B. Church Cemetery in Ashland, Mississippi.
“Nathan Beauregard stayed [in Ashland], like one of the jinn bottled up by Solomon for eons, living on well past what can really be called ‘old age,’ until his life came to resemble the myth of the blues itself, patient, undying, and indomitable…Beauregard’s musical breakthrough would not come until he was almost one hundred years old. Then, like a genie in the Arabian Nights loosed by a chance passerby—in this instance, a Memphis hippie—he would perform at the Memphis Country Blues Festival, make recordings, and appear on the television screen of Joe Beard in Rochester, New York, who gazed in mute astonishment at the flickering image of the ancient man singing ‘Spoonful Blues’ on the public television station.”
The Mt. Zion Memorial Fund for Blues, Music, and Justice aims to raise the historical consciousness of blues enthusiasts as well as promote a more inclusive process of memorialization, and this project reflects the amazing potential of a more self-conscious and collaborative inquiry. The death certificate of Nathan Beauregard was discovered due to the determined efforts of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund’s Memphis affiliate Bill Pichette, who managed the campaign to mark the grave of Charlie Burse and clean up Rose Hill Cemetery in 2018. He soon learned that Beauregard’s exact death date was unclear, and he searched several Memphis newspapers for his obituary from May 1 – June 15, 1970, knowing that he died sometime in May 1970. Despite previously locating the obituaries of other blues artists, namely fiddler Will Batts, Pichette knew that this time-consuming method had great potential. In this case, it only proved frustrating, as he scanned page after page of microfilm to no avail. Most researchers would have given up and thrown in the towel, but the affiliates of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund realize that the research process is often daunting, sometimes excruciatingly disappointing. Our ethical practice of memorialization, however, is grounded in archival research, and it can be a most rewarding experience, especially for someone whose passion for the music inspires a greater curiosity about the African American lived experience.
The cemetery contains the headstones of several members of his family, MZMF affiliate Emily Hilliard worked with the deacons and congregation at the church to obtain permission to install his headstone near the graves of his ancestors. You can read her blog posts about her efforts on our research blog. Click HERE for the first installment and HERE for the second post.