Monday, August 20, 2012

The Famous Corner

That’s the way I’d play it for the girls, who’d do the high kicks. Said, “My, my, play that thing, boy.” And I’d say, “We'll, certainly do it, little old girl.” That’s just the way they used to act down in Mobile in those days, around St. Louis and Warren, part of the Famous Corner.
-Jelly Roll Morton
In 1938 Alan Lomax sat down with Jelly Roll Morton in an interview that is recorded in the Library of Congress.  It is because of this interview that we learn a little about the music scene that was in Mobile during the early part of the last century.  Jelly Roll Morton wrote “Alabama Bound” while in Mobile and met Porter King to whom he dedicated the song “King Porter Stomp.” He also mentions a Charlie King and Baby Grice as other quality musicians who lived in Mobile at the time. 
Peter Hanley’s quest to find the musician Porter King in census and archival records led to a likely candidate, a porter by profession who at one time lived at 604 Saint Anthony Street (see In 2009, I spoke to local historian Dora Finley and found further evidence to support Peter Hanley’s contention.  She said that Porter King’s occupation as a porter was likely not an accident and explained the relationship in Mobile between porters and musicians. The story begins in 1875 when Bettie Hunter owned and operated a Cab service.  She died childless at the age of 27 and left her business to her brothers Henry and Robert Hunter. They continued to operate the Hack Service or Cab Co as it was later called.  In census research that Mrs. Finley compiled on Robert, he too was listed on and off as a Porter.   Robert Hunter was the father to Mrs. Jamie Stewart.  Mrs. Jamie Stewart was held in high esteem as the Music Director at Dunbar High School for many years, possibly dating back to the late Thirties. Her daughter, Yolanda Reddick, until recently had been the long time Music Director at Williamson High School.  According to Mrs. Finley, the family has always been associated with music and musicians and this appreciation would have presented a comfortable work environment for Porter King.

The corner of Warren and Saint Louis Street is now an overgrown empty lot but Jazz can still be heard at the Gulf City Lodge located at 601 State Street. It provides an authentic setting and a good dinner for the Monthly Jazz Jamabalaya’s held by the Mystic Order of Jazz Obsessed (see  
The Famous Corner

Pen and Ink Drawing of Jelly Roll Morton - Mauro Ghersi, 1961

Bettie Hunter House (1875), Saint Frances Street

Gulf City Lodge, 601 State Street

Monday, May 28, 2012

Alabama Lighthouses

The Middle Bay and Sand Island lighthouses are decaying vistiges of Alabama's nautical past. They are precariously situated in Mobile Bay and just south of Dauphin Island. The wear of time and neglect have rendered them vulnerable to the next hurricane. I will be surprised if they survive my lifetime.

Sand Island Lighthouse

Middle Bay Lighthouse