W. C. Handy first heard the blues in 1903 while waiting for a train in Tutwiler. A traveling musician playing slide guitar near the train tracks sang that he was “goin’ where the Southern cross the Dog.” Handy later recalled that it was “the weirdest music I had ever heard.”
The small town—1,364 people in the 2000 census—has changed little since Handy visited it over a century ago. In 1968 I approached Tutwiler as a sacred place because of its association with Handy and the blues.
In Tutwiler, I visited with Lee Kizart, a gifted blues pianist and storyteller who recalled the Delta worlds of his youth and their vital blues scene. We found an old piano in the local high school where he played and talked about his career.
I also spent an afternoon with Kizart’s friend Tom Dumas, who played old-time country tunes on the fiddle and banjo. Dumas grew up in the Mississippi hills, and he and his music were clearly out of step with the Delta blues worlds in which he lived.