Photo by Alessandro Gandolfi
Greenville, Mississippi, sits midway between Memphis in the north and New Orleans in the south, a city of 40,000 that hugs one of the innumerable bends of the river referred to by many as the “Mighty Mississippi.”
The Walnut Street Blues Bar, just a few steps from the banks of the Mississippi river, puts on jam sessions every afternoon and at the bar you will often find one of the richest men in the country: Howard Brent. “Sixty percent of the grain in these parts is still transported by ship,” he tells me over a beer. “And nearly all those ships are mine.”
Howard is the father of Eden Brent, one of the most talented blues singers in the region. Though young by blues standards, Eden’s story is already on display in the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland. Here you will learn that this petite woman, with a characteristic whiskey-smoke voice that sounds like a mixture of Janis Joplin and Norah Jones, played for years with American blues pioneer, Boogaloo Ames. She earned her nickname of “Little Boogaloo” for the undeniable talents she lets loose when she sits at a piano.
Howard Brent insists on showing me his house, a white villa with a garden just outside of town where Eden sat at the grand piano, trying out songs from her new album. The piano is surrounded by books, scores and a photo of her late mother alongside one of Mississippi’s most famous native sons: Elvis Presley.
Eden is called the “Queen of the Mississippi” and critics have said of her songs that you can hear “the ghosts of the river duetting with the future of the blues.” They also say “it is Boogaloo teaching us how to make real boogie-woogie.” Described as blues for eccentric pianists, uptempo boogie-woogie was played during the evening at juke joints the dance halls where many of the region’s laborers went at the end of a long workday for a little fun.
The city of Greenville is not only on the banks of the great river, it is also on the equally mythical Route 61, the only true Blues Road. Often referred to simply as the “Blues Highway,” it is described in detail in the Leland museum, where they also tell the stories of the tragicomic lives of bluesmen such as T-Model Ford, Alex ‘Little Bill’ Wallace, and Mississippi Slim. And now, Eden Brent.
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