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Club Ebony, world-famous blues venue, to reopen this weekend

Club Ebony
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Club Ebony, the world-famous Indianola blues bar, has undergone a total renovation and is reopening to the public this weekend after more than a year.

After discovering structural issues within the facility, owners of the nightclub decided to begin a complete renovation project to bring Club Ebony up to date, while also preserving its historic value.

“It’s not just a funky old club anymore, but they have retained a lot of the original features such as the metal ceiling, and there are some recessed neon lights that have been there since the late 40s or 50s,” Scott Barretta, writer and researcher for the Mississippi Blues Trail, told SuperTalk Mississippi News.

Barretta also noted that Club Ebony now has a new kitchen, a “green room” for visiting music artists to use, and an elevated performing stage so that everyone inside will have the ability to soak in the entire ambiance of concerts taking place.

This nightclub that cemented the small Mississippi Delta town as an entertainment hub from the 1940s-60s celebrated its grand reopening with a Thursday morning ribbon cutting to kick off an action-packed weekend of concerts — which will be headlined by GRAMMY award-winning singer and guitarist Susan Tedeschi as well as Tony Coleman, formerly B.B. King’s drummer.

Big Time Rhythm & Blues Band will open weekend festivities with a 7 p.m. performance on Thursday. On Friday, The Neal Brothers and Mr. Sipp will take the stage at 7 p.m. The Neal Brothers honed their craft in Louisiana, hanging around the likes of Buddy Guy and Harpo Slim. Mr. Sipp is a Mississippi native who was also influenced by B.B. King, taking up guitar at age six. He has been named winner of the International Blues Challenge, the Bobby Rush Entertainer of the Year award, and BMA’s Best New Artist Album.

Capping off the weekend will be Tony Coleman’s Silent Partners Band playing several numbers with Susan Tedeschi. The performance will begin on Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets for the shows are available on Eventbrite.

Club Ebony, which is now part of the B.B. King Museum, was built by Johnny Jones in 1943 as a place for Black Mississippians to enjoy food, drinks, and music in a segregated town. The nightclub was known as a stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” a collection of performance venues in the U.S. that embraced African American culture.

After Jones passed away in 1950, his widow, his son, John E. Jones, Jr., and others operated the club under the ownership of James B. “Jimmy” Lee, a white bootlegger from Leland who had loaned money to Jones. Ruby Edwards took over the business in the mid-1950s and purchased it in 1958, the same year B.B. King married Edwards’ daughter, Sue Carol Hall.

Club Ebony was rented in 1974 and then purchased in 1975 by Willie and Mary Shepard, who continued to book notable performers.

When Shepard retired in 2008, King stepped in to buy Club Ebony, preserving not only a major cultural landmark but also the special place where, 50 years earlier, as he wrote in his autobiography, he “found love back down in the Delta.”

“He turned around and gave Club Ebony to the B.B. King Museum basically for safe keeping,” Barretta said. “He ensured its continuity.”

Throughout the years, the venue has featured legendary acts including Ray Charles, Count Basie, Bobby Bland, Little Milton, Albert King, James Brown, Ike Turner, Howlin’ Wolf, Tyrone Davis, Bobby Rush, and many more. It was also the place where B.B. King played to standing-room-only crowds after his popular annual homecoming concerts in Indianola.

Now the historic blues nightclub will once again resume operations in the small Mississippi town.

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