Five years ago the CHNA board of directors was presented with a request for a “Son House Tribute” plaque to be erected at Lunsford Circle. None of us had heard of this person. When nothing materialized from our request for further information, a makeshift “Son House lived here” sign on a wooden stake mysteriously appeared in Lunsford Circle, remaining there for several months.
Who was Son House?
According to WGMC-FM (90.1) Bad Dog Blues co-host Jeff Harris: “When I was a young blues geek growing up in the Bronx, the only thing I knew about Rochester was that’s where Son House was rediscovered. I never even knew where Rochester was.” As far as the blues world knew, House left Mississippi in 1943 and disappeared. His recording legacy was slim, but he had become “The Man” in Delta juke joints. Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson were in awe of him. “In 1964, during the folk blues revival, everybody was trying to seek out the old-time blues guys,” Harris says. “They had a hard time finding Son House, but finally tracked him down in Rochester at 61 Grieg Street. He was pretty amazed when three white guys found him.”
By the early ‘70s, “He was getting pretty sick,” Harris says. “Passing out in a snowdrift in Plymouth Circle and getting buried by a snowplow, where he lay until the next morning, didn’t help.” House moved to Detroit in 1975 to live with relatives, and died there in 1988, approximately 86 years of age. He had had a hard life, and a tangled one. While in Mississippi, House had worked as a preacher, served some time in prison for shooting a man dead and then lost his soul to “the devil’s music”—blues. Perhaps he moved to Rochester to bury that past.
Now his memory is alive again. On June 8, 2008, Jeff Harris assembled a tribute at Water Street Music Hall. Bluesman Gordon Munding has begun “Son House Night” jam sessions on Thursdays at Beal Street Café. Bluesman John Mooney (a prominent Fiddlers Fair performer at Corn Hill Arts Festivals) remembers visiting House on Grieg Street. “Loudest singer I’ve ever heard.” Currently in Florida, Mooney is headlining “Hot Blues For the Homeless—A Tribute to Son House.” Rest in Peace, Son House. Your legacy is remembered in Corn Hill.