Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues

By William Ferris | Go to book overview

WOKJ, JACKSON

WOKJ radio station has been the voice of the black community in Jackson and surrounding areas since it first went on the air in 1954. In addition to its rich fare of blues and gospel music, the station reports on local events. Its disc jockeys are considered heroes, and their verbal skills are legendary.

Bruce Payne grew up in Vicksburg and worked at WOKJ for twenty-seven of his fifty years as a radio announcer. Known as the “Dean” of gospel music, Payne produced a variety of programs over the years. He brought the Staple Singers to Jackson for a concert and helped launch the annual Jackson Music Awards in 1979.

Payne recalled the critical role that he and others at WOKJ played during the civil rights movement. On May 14, 1970, two Jackson State University students were killed and twelve others were wounded by police as WOKJ announcers watched from their window on Lynch Street, just a few blocks from the campus.

My teaching career began in the English Department at Jackson State in September 1970, three months after the shootings. Bruce Payne was a regular visitor in my black folklore course, and he spoke eloquently to my students about the history of the blues and gospel. He also moderated the Mississippi Folk Voices concert series that I organized at the Mississippi History Museum in Jackson.

The voices of Joe “Poppa Rock” Louis, Reverend Marcus Butler, and Bruce Payne anchored WOKJ’s sound in the hearts and minds of their listeners. The station is deeply connected to the musical roots of the Jackson community. I recorded these radio programs and the interview with Payne during the summer of 1974 at WOKJ for the film Give My Poor Heart Ease.

Radio played a key role in introducing me to the blues as a white teenager.

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Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents viii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Blues Roots 11
  • Rose Hill 13
  • Lake Mary 29
  • Lorman 47
  • Centreville 57
  • Gravel Springs 67
  • Parchman Penitentiary 77
  • Tutwiler 89
  • A Delta Road in Coahoma County 98
  • Blues Towns and Cities 103
  • Leland 105
  • Clarksdale 143
  • Wokj, Jackson 160
  • Beale Street 170
  • Looking Back 175
  • Willie Dixon 177
  • B. B. King 185
  • Sacred and Secular Worlds 203
  • Rose Hill Church 205
  • Clarksdale 222
  • Epilogue 255
  • Selected Bibliography, Discography, Filmography, and Websites 259
  • Index 291
  • H. Eugene and Lillian Youngs Lehman Series 299
  • CD and Dvd Notes 301
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