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Natchez native, musician showcases instruments

Natchez resident Hezekiah Early plays his cheese-box guitar in the Natchez Visitor Center. Early began making cheese-box guitars when he was a child. He now owns four cheese-box guitars and will have two of them on display at the Natchez Visitor Center throughout Black History Month. (Devonte Demby / The Natchez Democrat)

Natchez resident Hezekiah Early plays his cheese-box guitar in the Natchez Visitor Center. Early began making cheese-box guitars when he was a child. He now owns four cheese-box guitars and will have two of them on display at the Natchez Visitor Center throughout Black History Month. (Devonte Demby / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ Hezekiah Early is a jack-of-all-trades and is known for playing the guitar, drums and harmonica.

But the Natchez native’s musical roots can be tied back to the guitar and specifically one he made out of a cheese box — a method he sill uses today.

“The first time I made one I was eight or nine years old,” Early said.

The Adams County Welcome Center, located in the Natchez Visitor Center, is currently displaying African American art and history exhibits throughout the month of February. Early’s cheese box guitars are one of several exhibits on display.

Early was raised on a farm near Anna’s Bottom in Natchez where his family did not have much money, but they did have creativity.

Early’s imagination sparked when his father, Wilson Early, brought home cheese boxes.

“My daddy would bring cheese boxes home from the grocery store, and I kept looking at one of them thinking I could make a guitar,” Early said. “So I got busy and made one.”

Early has played the guitar since he was nine years old, and still does occasionally. Now, however, Early mostly plays the drums and harmonica, a talent he uses while he works with his band Hezekiah and the House Rockers.

Early used his talents of playing the harmonica while being an extra in “Freedom Road,” a 1979 American TV historical drama mini-series staring legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.

The mini-series was filmed in Natchez, providing Early the opportunity he needed to participate in the TV show.

“They were looking for somebody to blow the harmonica,” Early said. “They went through about 500 people until they heard about me.”

Early said he was on set with Ali for 13 hours when the legendary boxer would take his harmonica and try to play the instrument.

“He kept it about four hours trying to blow it — he still couldn’t play it,” Early said. “I kept that harmonica for years after that.”

Despite Early not playing the guitar that often, he has five guitars at his home, four of which are made out of cheese boxes.

Early created two cheese box guitars last year and now has them on display at the Natchez Visitors Center.

“It was just something I made as a kid,” Early said. “I really was just trying myself out to see if it worked, and it did work.”

The cheese box guitars are not play toys, but actual guitars that produce sound, Early said. Early said music is a part of African American history.

“All of this started back in the day,” Early said. “Hard working people would be working, and they would come up with some kind of song that would give them a relief.”

Music still provides that relief, even today, Early said.

The exhibits can be seen from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.