2018-05-01 / ReBooted

I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues

Jill Gleeson

At a dinner party or fine meal, a palate cleanser is the little bit of food eaten between courses to return the taste buds to neutral. More recently, the term has also come to describe the fling one might have after a bad breakup to reset the heart before the next serious relationship. Palate cleansers are fun, lighthearted morsels. I fully expected my recent trip to Mississippi to be a palate cleanser, something to simply soothe and delight after my Aconcagua summit attempt in Argentina and before the adventure trips to Greenland and Morocco I had ahead. But it turned out to be much more.

I fell in love with the Magnolia State last year, when I visited the tiny town of Clarksdale. I was on assignment for a story about blues music, which was born in the funky juke joints of the Mississippi Delta, more specifically Clarksdale. When I had a chance to go back this spring I grabbed it; to my surprise I found the experience as stirring emotionally, in an entirely different way, as anything I experienced in Argentina.

My journey took me down the Mississippi Blues Trail, which begins in Tunica, where there’s a fine Gateway to the Blues Visitor Center and Museum and The Hollywood Cafe, made famous by Mark Cohn in one of my favorite songs ever, “Walking in Memphis.” This was all a big thrill for the music geek in me, but it was Clarksdale once again that stole my heart, just as quickly and casually as a bad boy snags the affections of a good girl.

I made my first stop in Clarksdale at the Ground Zero Blues Club, co-owned by movie star Morgan Freeman, where Anthony “Big A” Sherrod was playing. I’d seen Sherrod the first time I was in Clarksdale and he’d made my mouth fall open with his guitar-playing prowess, the fuzzy, wicked notes sliding one into another, sounding like heartbreak — and decadence, too. But it was in Red’s, the last of the original juke joints remaining in Mississippi, where I saw history being made and the future unspooling all at once. And it brought tears to my eyes.

There, the teen guitar prodigy Christone “Kingfish” Ingram was doing an unannounced show. Red himself will tell you — as will just about anyone else who’s heard Kingfish play — that Kingfish is the next B.B. King. He really is that good, so good that’s he’s performed for the Obamas. So good that when you hear him the goosebumps roll up and down your arms and you know you’re witnessing genius.

But the best part of the whole night, maybe of the whole trip, was talking to Kingfish’s mom, Princess, after the show. We liked each other instantly, and she explained to me how far her son’s talent and hard work had taken them. “When Kingfish was a boy we had to live in our car, and now look at him — playing the White House,” she said. “And you know, he has Asperger’s syndrome. He’s proof that you really can make your dreams come true. Anyone can.”

I thought about Princess and her remarkable son a lot throughout the rest of my trip, which continued to move me in ways unexpected as we rolled on down the Blues Trail. I was able to hear stories of what growing up with Muddy Waters as a grandpap was like from his great-granddaughter, NaCherrie Cooper, at the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi in Cleveland, Mississippi, and visit the Greenwood grave of Robert Johnson, the father of the blues, who is said to have died an agonizing death from poison. In between I wept at B.B. King’s gravesite in Indianola, on the grounds of the museum dedicated to him.

Following in the footsteps of some of the greatest musical artists this country will ever produce, and learning about their proud lives and sad deaths, profoundly moved me. But as I figure out my next big adventure — will I go back to Argentina? — Princess’s words stick with me: “You really can make your dreams come true. Anyone can.” •SCM

For more information about the Mississippi Blues Trail, visit

Jill Gleeson is on the biggest adventure of her life. Follow her journey on her blog at and via her column at

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