Béatrice Chauvin
Photographer-Writer
Béatrice Chauvin

Words

Publications/Articles (photographs and texts)


- Memphis, Birthplace of the Blues (Blues Magazine n°56, March 2010)

- Memphis, Tennessee (Marie-Claire Maison, pictures and reportage/ (text Isabelle Reisinger)

- The Remarkable Story of Stax (Blues Magazine n°57, June 2010)

- Tupelo-Memphis, The First Steps of the King (Blues Magazine n°58, March 2011)

- Gibson Factory, Nashville, Tennessee (Blues Magazine n°63, December 2011)

- The Mississippi Blues Trail, Chapter One (Blues Magazine n°64, March 2012)

- The Mississippi Blues Trail, Chapter Two (Blues Magazine n°65, June 2012)

- The Mississippi Blues Trail, Chapitre Three (Blues Magazine n°66, September 2012)

- St Blues Guitar Workshop made in Memphis (Blues Magazine n°72, April-May 2014)

- William Ferris (Blues Magazine n°75, March 2015) with Dominique Boulay.

 

Guest Talks

- Towson University, Baltimore, October 2012 : Like a Song Mississippi Blues

- University of Memphis for the Delta-Everything Southern Conference, June 2013 : THE MAGNETIC POWER OF THE DELTA FOR FRENCH BLUES LOVERS.

- Photographic Workshop "See With Your Heart » with the Summer Camp Kids of the B.B.King Museum, June 2013.

- Work with William Ferris on the selection of his photographs for his book about the South to be published in 2016.

"Beatrice Chauvin provided invaluable support in helping me review 75,000 photographs in my archive and select 100 images that will be included in my forthcoming book The South in Color.  Her skills as a photographer are on clear display in the beautiful work she has done in the Mississippi Delta with blues artists like Pat Thomas."

William Ferris Author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues/Les Voix du Mississippi.

 

EXTRAITS

The Mississippi Blues Trail Chapter One. Blues Magazine n°64, March 2012

Le land

Following the Mississippi Blues Trail, going from one place to an other, dreaming up what were Skip James, Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf, Mississippi John Hurt’s lives like.

Driving on dirt roads bordering cotton fields in bloom. Striding along Stovall or Dockery Farms, resting ones hands on the old barns still echoing the sounds of Muddy Waters, Charley Patton’s slamming guitar riffs. Feeling in the howl of the wind, in the song of thousands birds nesting in swamps, feeling all the nostalgia of Mississippi. That is the trip Blues Magazine wants to take you to.

Tutwiler.

By driving down Highway 49 you just need twenty minutes to join Tutwiler from Clarksdale. The light on the cotton fields flows so strangely that it helps the mind leap back to Robert Johnson, Johnny Shines, Son House’ days and watch them playing here and there. The landscape looks so flat, the horizon so close, small towns are easy to reach .

Tutwiler. The huge wall mural facing the railroad tracks tells different stories : on the right, the story of Sonny Boy Williamson ascending to heaven surrounded by angels, with a rudimentary map showing how to get to his tumbstone. In the middle of the mural here is WC Handy waiting for the train in Tutwiler, sitting next to a musician. In 1903, WC Handy was the leader of a ragtime and cakewalk orchestra, and of many other popular musics in Clarksdale. This very night he hears the musican sliding a knife blade on his strings, producing an emotionnal and sorrowful sound, repeating three times the same phrase. Handy was impressed by this music that he found strange and which he was going to become the father years later.

Dockery Farms.

There’s nothing easier like joining Dockery Farms coming from Vance. You just need to drive through Tutwiler by US-49W and let go, down to Ruleville, passing ahead of Parchman and Drew, turn right on MS-8W and there in between Ruleville and Cleveland sits the birthplace of the Blues. So many names run on these barns, in these trees, in the soft morning breeze, in the birds melodies : Willie Brown, Henry Sloan, Roebuck ‘Pop’ Staples, Tommy Johnson, Charley Patton…Inside the old cotton gin, the wind on corrugated iron sounds like ghosts steps. Everything is very sensitive and makes the flesh creep. Bill Lester, who has been the executive director of Dockery Farms for five years, tells great stories : « Everyting started in 1885 when Will Dockery arrived in the Delta, ready for adventure. At that time most of the Delta was a huge tropical jungle made of forests, swamps, of bayou infested by snakes, mosquitoes, alligators, brown bears, panthers and malaria. Will Dockery buys a huge land crossed by the Sunflower river. He calls it Dockery Farms and starts clearing it » (…)

Within twenty years he builds a huge farm where abide many blues musicians. Charley Patton, Henry Sloan, Willie Brown, Son House, Tommy Johnson, Chester ‘Howlin’Wolf’ Burnett, Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples and David ‘HoneyBoy’ Edwards : one generation after the other creates the reputation of the place. In this social context when life is so hard for black people, a ballet of musical influences going through spiritual fathers to spiritual sons, sets off pure geniuses. That’s why Dockery Farms is one of the birthplaces of the Blues. 

The Mississippi Blues Trail, chapter two. Blues Magazine n°65, June 2012.

LITTLE ZION CHURCH

Little Zion Church

Little Zion Church

You need to enjoy the morning light to go to Money Road. Starting from Cleveland, take the MS-8E, drive in front of Dockery Farms, then thirty five miles ahead turn right on US 49 E S and fifteen minutes later take on the left a tiny little road called the Co Rd 559 which is also named the Sunny Side Rd. As a matter of fact it is a red gravel road, lined with trees and fields, which further on goes along the Tallahatchie River, a river that looks like a bayou with its swamp cypresses. The atmosphere is strange enough to put your mind into a state of anxiety. It even gives you the feeling to be at the far end of the world, overwhelming you with the sensation of being lost. The Sunny Side Road goes through Money, a small desert village with shaking old houses, belonging to other ages. Then at last here is the Co Rd 518 so-called Money Road where the sun creates sporadically very peculiar mirages, gliding like tiny ghosts over the meadows. It is almost mystical and Little Zion appears very quickly. On the left of the white church stands Robert Johnson’s gravesite, this grave so many times visited, photographed, dissected, examined. There’s something pastoral in this place of worship where trees throw shadows to the tumbstone in a dreamlike way. The wind blows softly in the bamboos, the shades stretch out, the sounds, the images increase and let the wings of imagination carry you away. As if pieces of the great bluesman’s life where concentrating in this very place, forming a thick globe made of guitar chords, songs, hands clapping, feet beating in rhythm, an almost cinematic globe of what could be the life of a Robert Johnson with such a bright and contrasted personnality (…)

Indianola. The BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center beats in the heart of the city. BB King’s life is related in a wonderful way thanks to a very modern and bold scenography, standing like a major thread running from the cotton fields to concerts all over the world. As an unvaluable throve, the cultural inheritage of Mississippi spreads out all along the museum with the stories of the Delta, the music, the literature, the legends and as a background of the bitter and terrible dark ages of racism. This museum is such a beautiful tribute to BB King, the man we all wish to be friends with. Indianola, where thousand birds sing in the bayoo right in front of the museum, Indianola and Club Ebony, starting in 1948 and where Ray Charles, Count Basie, BB King, Bobby Bland, Albert King, Willie Clayton and many other bluesmen played and thrilled the audiences. Indianola and the Blue Biscuit where daily gigs whirl their songs in the air. Indianola, BB King Hometown…

Leland. Each tree, each landscape, each cotton field, each crossroad, each stream, each wall, each rail road track, each cemetery, each dirt road, each little town of the Delta tells the stories of the Blues. In Leland these stories are written on five huge murals and on four markers : those of Johnny Winter, Corner of Highway 10&61, Ruby Nite’s Spot and James Son Thomas. James was discovered, interviewed, filmed by William Ferris in 1968. His career developped during the seventies and the eighties in Europe and in the USA. He was a folk artist as well. The blues singer used to be a gravedigger to make a living and all in his artwork speaks about death. His art is mainly composed of skulls, coffins and birds. It is shown at the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, at the Center for Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, at the Historical Museum of Jackson, at the Delta Blues Museum of Clarksdale, and at the Highway 61 Blues Museum of Leland. Pat Thomas who is James’son, greets any Blues lover at the Highway 61 Blues Museum, with James Moss, guardian angel of the place. Meeting Pat is like meeting the Blues if one could give him a face. All of his words, his attitudes is the Blues. Meeting Pat Thomas is a moment that you will never forget because it touches your heart and soul. Like his father, Pat sings the blues. Most of his songs are his father’s, played in his own way. Like his father Pat is a folk artist, he draws cats on which he writes Love Dad Al’ways and carves birds. He speaks very often about his father who passed away in 1993 and says : « The blues was part of my father’s life, how you get the blues, well it’s like my dad said you’re broke you got the blues, you’re hungry you got the blues, you got a good woman she quits you, you got the bad blues, you can have the happy blues, you can have the mad blues there’ s a lot of ways you can get the blues. My father said, the feeling of the blues is something in you. It’s always in your heart, it’s always in your mind. That’s what the blues is. I have the blues because my father got the blues and he wanted me to carry on for him, he wanted his music to go on. I mostly care for the blues. Each time I go to my father’s grave and play music I got the impression to wake him up. »

 

61 Highway-James Son Thomas

 

I walked 61 highway 'till I give down in 

my knees. I aint found nobody to give my 

poor heart ease.

 

They tell me 61 highway, longest road I 

know. Run from Chicago down to the Gulf 

of Mexico. 61 highway run by my baby's 

door. 

 

You can bear my body out on highway 61.

You can love me or leave me. Either 

one you wanna do. You know its better to 

be in darkness than to live on in misery.

 

I walked 61 highway 'till I give down in 

my knees. I aint found nobody to give my 

poor heart ease.

 

Cairo Blues-James Son Thomas

 

You know I would go to Cairo, but the 

waters too high for me. The girl I love, 

she got washed away. 


You know the woman got drowned, swimmin' 

along after me. 

 

Cairo Cairo, that is the place for me. 

You know I'd get the girl that I'm lovin, 

but she had put me down.

 

I used to be a gambler, I bet all my 

money wrong. My baby quit me this 

morning, I don't even have a home 

 

Cairo Cairo, that is the place for me. 

You know I'd get the girl that I'm lovin, 

but she had put me down.

 

The Mississippi Blues Trail, chapter three. Blues Magazine n° 66, September 2012

(…)

Como. When you drive down Highway 51, you discover its melancholic landscapes. You go through Tillatoba, Batesville, Sardis, and then you arrive to Como, hometown of Fred Mc Dowell, Otha Turner, Napolian Strickland, Blind Sid, Jessie Mae Hemphill, RL Boyce (…)

Fred MC Dowell. The Hammond Hill M.B Church cemetery north of Como is full of poetry and charm. That’s where rests in peace Fred Mc Dowell. Alan Lomax discovers and records the bluesman in September 1959. Here are his lines taken from The Land Where The Blues Began one of the master piece ever written about the Blues: (…) Fred was a quiet, silky-voiced, stoop shouldered fellow, eager to record. That very evening he invited in a couple of neighbors to help out-one man to play second guitar, and his aunt, Fannie Davis, to provide the wind section by blowing on a fine-toothed comb wrapped in toilet paper. We recorded outdoors after dark, by flashlight. No wind was blowing, and the katydids were out of season, so we could take advantage of the living quiet of open air and the natural resonance of the earth and trees. The mixer and the stereo had room for his multidimensional sound, with one mike for Fred’s voice, one for his picking and its backup, and one for his aunt’s humming and wheezing through the comb.The sound we captured made us all deliriously happy. The blues, speaking through Fred, sounded like a deep-voiced black herald of the loi, with a silver-voiced heavenly choir answering him from the treble strings. When we played his recordings back to him, he stomped up and down on the porch, whooping and lauhing and hugging his wife. He knew he had been heard and felt his fortune had been made. His old auntie, sitting on the ground near me where I was riding grain, kept patting me and saying, « Lawd have mercy, Lawd have mercy !» (…)

Fred McDowell’s recordings for me, as they appeared on the Atlantic label, won instant and extraordinary fame. After their release in 1960, he cut fourteen LPs, and the Rolling Stones invited him to Europe (…) Certainly it is a blessing that he was so thoroughly taped, for no one on records, perhaps, performed the sweet old country blues so well as he. His mellow, multitonal vocal style lends subtle pathos to every phrase of his songs and evokes eloquent responses from his gnarled and work-wise plowman’s fingers. His journeys up the treble strings take us into the region of heart cries or, at times, of tender ecstasy. You feel that the underlying mood of his music is as grave as the tragic destiny of his people. Yet the dancing beat that rocked the barrelhouse all night long rolls and jangles joyously. (…)


You gotta move-Fred McDowell


You got to move
You got to move
You got to move, child
You got to move
But when the Lord
Gets ready
You got to move


(guitar)

You may be high
You may be low
You may be rich, child
You may be po'
But when the Lord gets ready
You've got to move

(guitar)

You see that woman
That walk the street
You see the policeman
Out on his beat
But when the Lord gets ready
You got to move

(guitar)

You got to move
You got to move
You've got to move, child
You've got to
But when the Lord gets ready
You got to move.


The Mississippi Blues

Balles de coton

Today is october the 10th. The harvest has started in Sledge Taylor’s cotton fields near Como. All day long big cotton pickers have worked on and on like a song, a long deep blues. Right now it is sunset, the shadows are stretching, the cotton modules look like sculptures. It is breathtaking. Notes of music join this atmosphere, they fly and swirl up in the air like multi-colored ribbons. They are the notes of Field Hollers, Work Songs, Gospel, Spirituals, Blues, Soul, Jazz and Rock’n’Roll. And this same strong feeling that followed me during my trip comes back. The feeling that Mississippi gives us tirelessly its fiber, its density, its skin, its soul, its music. This music that seeps into landscapes, sliding on leaves, on wild grasses, on cotton flowers, dancing with each person, singing at each note, each guitar chord. This music that wispers, beats and resonates like a breath, the breath of the Blues.