100 Men Hall Celebrates One Year On Mississippi Blues TrailBy Rhonda Miller | Published 14 Jun 2012 08:46pm |
On Saturday, the 100 Men Hall in Bay St. Louis will celebrate one year on the Mississippi Blues Trail. The former African-American social hall was in ruins after Hurricane Katrina. But as MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports, the hall is gaining a following as a piece of Mississippi history and a revived venue for the blues.
On a recent Saturday night at Hundred Men Hall, the house band has the place rockin’. At center stage is Miss Dee in a shimmery gold top, tight black pants and gold high heels.
"You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, crying all the time…"
Leslie Hood of Long Beach is dancing with his 16-year-old daughter.
"I like what I see. I like the music. I like the bluesy type music and I love to dance."
Hood has lived on the Gulf Coast all his life, but never saw this place before, even though it was built in 1922. Hood is white and the Hundred Men Hall was a center of African-American social life.
"I like the old, the memorabilia part of it. The difference in the black and white. It used to be all separated. Now it’s together, and that’s the way it ought to be. God never intended for us to be different. There shouldn’t have never been prejudice, white or black. It shouldn’t have never been."
The official name of the hall is The One Hundred Men Debating Benevolent Association. Owners Jesse and Kerrie Loya saw the hall when it was in ruins. But Kerrie Loya says they also saw its value.
"My vision is to preserve the rich history of the Hundred Men Hall. That is not just the musical history. It’s also the history of the original founders, and these were free black men."
Twelve men originally founded the organization that used the hall for pageants, wedding receptions and dances. Written into the mission of the group was “to assist its members when sick, bury its dead in a respectable manner and knit friendship.”
"The black people at that time couldn’t go in the hospitals and all that. They didn’t have no money."
That’s 74-year-old Bay St. Louis native Isaac Joseph Darensbourg, Jr.
"So what they would do, every month, the children, we called it the Children of Friendship, that’s the name of this room here, we would all come and put a quarter or ten cents in the little thing. Now, whoever got sick, they would go in the treasury and they would give ‘em the cough medicine or whatever they need, because people couldn’t afford it. And I was there. That’s why I know. Right here, in this same room."
Darensbourg has been playing music for decades and is now known simply as Guitar Bo. He’s a headliner for tonight’s show, along with his wife, Ms. Dee. Guitar Bo is pleased to be on the stage where many great musicians performed.
"B.B. King and Etta James and all them big stars came here, yeah. From right out there, that same old bandstand. This place used to be crowded back in them days."
The hall was a stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit”, a name given to a string of clubs where African-American musicians performed. Preston Lauterbach is the author of “The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll”. It was only after his book was published he learned about the Hundred Men Hall.
"It was actually connected to the New Orleans scene. There was a promoter there by the name of Frank Pannier who had this great club called the Dew Drop, one of the most important places in rock ‘n’ roll history. And the promoter there had the Hundred Men Hall on his circuit. And so all of the artists coming out of New Orleans would regularly play here."
Owner Jesse Loya says, during the past year, they’ve brought in musicians from Tupelo, Greenville and New Orleans.
"That's what we're trying to do. We’re trying to bring something from outside of our area, to really give people something to do, and to enjoy, without having to leave town here."
But to celebrate its first year on the Blues Trail, the Hundred Men Hall is sticking with local favorites, the House Katz, with Guitar Bo and Miss Dee.
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