About 130 miles or so south of Memphis, Tennessee on Route 61 is what we used to call a “wide spot in the road” named Nitta Yuma, Mississippi. There is a small building with one rusty gasoline pump and a tire changing machine, surrounded by a chapel and a few other small buildings which appeared to have been a grocery store, a fire station with the old Anguilla Fire Department truck parked outside, and a few small houses and cabins. Nitta Yuma was the share cropping community for the 1840 Plantation House that is situated just across Route 61, owned by Henry Vick Phelps III, descendant of the founder of Vicksburg. According to one local resident seen walking around the area, the total residents of Nitta Yuma is “about 8 or 9.” Given that, I wasn’t sure why she had difficulty pinning down a number! Southern Living magazine identified Nitta Yuma as one of the “Five Hidden Treasures in the Mississippi Delta,” describing it as being “like an abandoned movie set from O Brother Where Art Thou . . . half ghost town and half time warp.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. When we stepped out of our car, the fine dust of the dry Mississippi dirt road swirled around us as we breathed in centuries of history that had long since deteriorated into the soil.
At one time 80 years or so ago, Nitta Yuma has the distinct honor of being one of the gathering spots for a number of Mississippi Delta blues artists, including the Mississippi Sheiks and its lead singer, Bo Carter. It is rumored that even B.B. King would make appearances at the local hoedowns that occurred here. Carter is buried just about 100 yards from the Gas Station in the Nitta Yuma cemetery. Up until this past weekend, Bo Carter’s grave was unmarked, as are many of the graves of Mississippi blues artists in the area.
For his part, Bo Carter was an extremely influential musician, composer and business man in the 1930s and 1940s. A farmer by day, he allegedly managed several other acts in addition to his own career and that of the Mississippi Sheiks, all of whom performed for many square dances and other events in the white communities throughout the south, as far down as Baton Rouge and as far north as Chicago. It is estimated that Carter recorded almost 200 original scores in over 10 different cities, making him the second most prolific southern pre-WWII songwriter and recording artist, second only to Memphis Minnie. Carter’s music has been covered by many artists in different genres, including Joni Mitchell, Cab Calloway, Natalie Cole, Eric Clapton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Steppenwolf, Rod Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Brooks & Dunn and Boz Scaggs.
One of my latest pieces of litigation involves the Estate of Bo Carter and a claim against several music industry people and companies, including Eric Clapton, who used Bo Carter’s Corrine Corrina, changed it to Alberta Alberta, and incorrectly attributed it to Leadbelly. Through my involvement with that case, we were made aware of an organization called the Mount Zion Memorial Fund who raised money to purchase and place a headstone on Mr. Carter’s grave.
The dedication and ceremony took place on Saturday, July 29th, 2017. It featured performances by Steve Cheseborough, Bill Steber, Ron Bombardi, Oses Crouch and Andrew Cohen. As you can see from the photos, it was a wonderful occasion that moved Carter’s step grandson, and my client and friend, Miles Floyd, to tears.