Mississippi Blues Trail Honors Belmont DeVilliers


The Mississippi Blues Commission will honor the legacy of the Blues in Pensacola, Florida with the unveiling of a Mississippi Blues Marker – part of the Mississippi Blues Trail. There will be two special events associated with the event; Jim O’Neal, blues historian, will present a lecture on Thursday, January 17 at 5:00 p.m. at Voices of Pensacola with the dedication and unveiling of the marker taking place in the Blemont-DeVilliers historical district, at the intersection of Belmont and DeVilliers streets on Friday, January 18 at 4:00 p.m.

In 2003, the Mississippi Blues Commission was created to promote the understanding of blues history, primarily by installing Mississippi Blues Trail markers across the state to identify significant contributions to the Blues’ musical heritage. In 2006, the first handful of markers was installed. Now there are just over 200 markers, giving blues fans – or casual travelers – a scavenger hunt of music history. The sites run the gamut from city streets to cotton fields, train depots to cemeteries, radio stations, historic homes and clubs to churches and cover most of Mississippi along the Delta, reaching out of state for an additional 16 reaching from Chicago, Illinois to Pensacola, Florida. The Pensacola marker, Marker No. 203, will be the second marker recognized in Florida.

Jim O’Neal is research director and lead writer with the Mississippi Blues Trail historical marker project and a founding editor of America’s first blues magazine, Living Blues. His articles and photographs have appeared in Rolling Stone, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Down Beat, and many other publications. Additionally, he has helped organize a number of blues festivals in and has worked as a record producer, film consultant, and tour guide O’Neal has been chairman of the Blues Hall of Fame selection committee for the Blues Foundation in Memphis since being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2002.

The Belmont DeVilliers Neighborhood applied to the Commission for a marker based on the rich musical history of the neighborhood spanning a number of decades. Once the application and documentation were submitted, the application went before the Commission for consideration. Once the Commission determined the significance of the site, the application was then turned over to scholars for further research and documentation. After the year-long process, the Commission voted unanimously for a Blues Marker at the intersection of Belmont DeVilliers.

The marker will recognize Pensacola, as an important early center of blues, ragtime, vaudeville and jazz activity, which developed into a regional cornerstone of the “chitlin’ circuit” in later years. Touring blues, jazz and rhythm & blues acts and local bands found a welcome base here in the Belmont-DeVilliers African-American business and entertainment district for several decades. Mississippi-born performers such as B.B. King, Junior Parker and Sam Cooke contributed to the vibrant nightlife in the neighborhood’s theaters and clubs.The Belmont DeVilliers neighborhood served as a stopping point for touring musicians and a place where local musicians could develop. Additionally,
The marker also recognizes the work of those in the neighborhood that help to foster the growth and appreciate of the blues through their commitment to the neighborhood including Gussie Streeter of Gussie’s Record Shop and Abe Pierce Sr, of Abe’s 506 and Savoy Ballroom.

The ceremony will feature a dedication from the Director of the Mississippi Blues Commission, Kamel King, Sentor Terry Burton (MS), Mayor Grover Robinson, County Commissioner Lumon May, Steve Hayes of Visit Pensacola, and Eddie Todd of Belmont-DeVilliers Neighborhood Association. Additionally, neighborhood leaders will be recognized including Gussie Streeter of Gussie’s Record Shop (currently Five Sisters Blues Café), the Pierce family (Abe’s 506, Savoy) and many more.

At the conclusion of the dedication and unveiling, the Belmont All-Star band will perform a live music jam session at the intersection featuring performers from the past including Vivian Lamont, Earnest Stanberry and others.

The Pensacola Blues marker is located at the corner of Belmont and DeVilliers streets. This is at Five Sisters’ Blues Café, the former site of Gussie’s Record Shop and the historical African-American business entertainment district. The entire Mississippi Blues Trail is self-guided and available on an app as well as in a printed version and on Google Maps.