Monday 16 April 2012

Muddy Water (A Mississippi Moan)

Dixie moonlight, Swanee shore
Headed homebound just once more
To my Mississippi delta home
Southland has that grand garden spot
Although you believe or not
I hear those breeze a-whispering
'Come on back to me"
Muddy water 'round my feet
Muddy water in the street
Just God don't shelter
Down on the delta
Muddy water in my shoes
Reeling and rocking to them lowdown blues
They live in ease and comfort down there
I do declare
Been away a year today
To wander and roam
I don't care it's muddy there
But see it is my home
Got my toes turned Dixie way
'Round the delta let me lay
My heart cries out for muddy water

(Song written by P. DeRose, Harry Richman, Jo Trent)

This sentimental song, performed by jazz singer Bessie Smith, about the flooding of the Mississippi delta, was written on March 2, 1927.  The Mississippi had been pummelled by rain the previous summer.  The following spring, more rain followed.  Within weeks of the composition of "Muddy Waters", the Mississippi burst its levees in 145 different places in 10 different states including Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Loiuisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.  The escaped water flooded an area 80 kilometres wide and 160 kilometres long; the depth of the water was up to 10 metres.  The river actually flowed north rather than south for several days due to the swelling.  Below Memphis, Tennessee, the Mississippi swelled to 97 kilometres wide in May of 1927.  The Great Mississippi Flood, the largest in the United States' history, killed 246 people and caused over $400 million in damages.

Eventually the flood waters started to recede, but not before racial tensions rose:  some blacks were forced to build new levees at gunpoint; others starved in refugee camps; still others had to fend for themselves while their white counterparts were rescued.  Some families were displaced for up to six months.  Consequently, tens of thousands of blacks decided to migrate north, particularly to places like Chicago, as part of the Great Migration. 

In the 1970's Led Zeppelin performed "When the Levee Breaks", a song written by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie's about the Mississippi Flood.  In the 1930's, William Faulkner, a Mississippi native, had a short story published called "Old Man" based on a prison break from Parchman Penitentiary during the flood.  And in the 1920's, Bessie Smith moaned for the muddy water of the Mississippi.

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