At an Old Juke Joint in Mississippi, the Blues Are Alive

On a pale morning in Bentonia, Mississippi, a village of 400-odd souls, one of the few signs of life are the half-dozen pickup trucks parked or idling outside Planters Supply, the local feed and seed. The Blue Front Cafe sits at one end of the street, next to the rusted husk of a former cotton gin and across the railroad tracks from a string of long-shuttered storefronts and sagging rooflines.

The rumble and clanging of boxcars fills the café as I take a seat across from the proprietor, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, who at 73 is the last in a line of bluesmen from Bentonia.

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Originally published in Smithsonian magazine, September 2021