I went to the Mississippi Delta once with my cousin Jessica. We drove from St. Louis to New Orleans on the Great River Road. In Clarksdale we went to visit with Rat who runs the Riverside Hotel – the place where Bessie Smith is rumored to have died after a car crash and being denied access to a white hospital for treatment. This story has been a matter of dispute, but when we were there in 2001 Rat still had the room done up as a tribute to Bessie. I don’t know if Rat is still around but he told us: “If you want to find Rat, he’s down by the river.” That’s where I’d start.
The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith is playing now at St. Luke’s Theater. Click here for tickets.