Blues Trail marker unveiled for LIghtfoot

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 5, 2009

NATCHEZ — Cars lined the neighborhood streets surrounding Jack Waite Park as music lovers broke out their lawn chairs and soaked in the sounds of the blues at the unveiling of Natchez’s second Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Friday.

The marker honors Alexander “Papa George” Lightfoot, a Natchez ice cream peddler by day, a blues man by night.

Lightfoot, born in 1924 and reared on Franklin Street, is credited for reviving the blues in the late 1960s following the release of his breakout album, “Natchez Trace.”

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Lightfoot began recording as a session man in 1949, and was well known among his peers for his mastery of the harmonica. He died in 1971.

“Papa Lightfoot represents the best of the best,” said Eric Glatzer, founder of the Natchez Bluff Blues Festival. “Papa Lightfoot left a big footprint and like so many stories it’s passing away. This marker tells his story and keeps that story alive.”

The marker is No. 83 for the Mississippi Blues Trail, established by the Mississippi Blues Commission in 2003. Natchez’s first marker is one commemorating the Rhythm Club Fire of 1940.

“Blues is on the roll and special consideration is being given to performers right here in our community,” said Darrell White, director of Cultural Heritage Tourism for the City of Natchez.

Craig Ray, tourism director for the Mississippi Development Authority, said 180 markers will be scattered throughout the state by year’s end. Beginning in January, each marker will be outfitted with audio and video to enhance the trail.

Glatzer and White had the honor of unveiling the marker amid applause from the crowd, who immediately gathered round to read Lightfoot’s story as music from the Natchez Blues Buff Band featuring Y.Z. Ealey filled the park.

Jon and Linda Lanier of Dallas were among those who took in the relaxed atmosphere. The husband and wife are vacationing in Natchez with Linda’s mother, Janet Franklin of Wichita Falls, Texas. Franklin lived in Natchez for six years.

“We had never heard of Papa Lightfoot before so it’s been educational for us,” Linda said.

“It’s a blessing to be here,” Jon said. “We’re happy to be a part of y’alls town for these few hours.”