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The Tommy Johnson Memorial Blues Highway: Life and Music Celebrated in Crystal Springs

CRYSTAL SPRINGS, Miss.–Tommy Johnson is certainly the lesser-known Johnson in Mississippi blues history. But that doesn’t diminish his importance as an artist and as a man most admired in his hometown of Crystal Springs. That’s where the Tommy Johnson Memorial Blues Highway was dedicated Thursday.

The Miss. Dept. of Transportation and Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall joined family, friends, legislators and Crystal Springs Mayor Sally Garland for the unveiling of a sign that designated part of Hwy. 51 as named for Johnson.

Perhaps the best-known bluesman Johnson is also honored in Copiah County, just miles away. The Robert Johnson Memorial Blues Highway is a portion of I-55 in Hazlehurst, his hometown.

As for the Tommy Johnson Highway, it was the Mississippi legislature that decided to designate a portion of the highway to be named for Johnson, who lived from 1896 to 1956, and was known for his ability to change his voice instantly from low to high, and for his showmanship with the guitar.

“Today is a day set aside for the Tommy Johnson family,” said Rep. Greg Holloway. “Today is your day.”

Plenty of family was there, including his niece, Vera Johnson Collins.

“He wasn’t a rough man. He never got into a fight. He just had ramblin’ on his mind,” said Collins, quoting her father on Johnson. “But when the notion struck him to hit that road, he didn’t tell nobody where he was going. Just look for him when you see him again.”

She noted that Johnson, like most Delta blues men, used the highways to travel, and his primary venue in that part of the state was Hwy. 51, which led to 49, which led to 61. He spent the majority of his adult life in the Delta, playing and learning at places like Dockery Plantation.

Ben Peyton, a musician who recently returned from Chicago, performed two of Johnson’s songs at the ceremony.

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