About three years ago I decided to visit a local establishment called Po’ Monkey’s. It was a tiny little shack on the edge of a cornfield which had nevertheless achieved world fame due to its status as one of the last rural juke joints left in Mississippi. it was truly a unique experience and made for an interesting blog post. I later went back a few times either by myself or with friends.
Sadly times have changed. This past July the owner of Po Monkey’s – whose real name was Willie Seaberry – passed away at the age of 75. It marked the end of an era. Unlike so many places which try to replicate an “authentic” old time feel, Po Monkey’s was the real deal. In operation since 1961, Po Monkey’s was one of the types of juke joints were farmer workers and locals would gather. It was the sort of place where the blues was born. 1
As far as I know plans have yet to be put in place regarding the establishment itself. Po Monkey’s was literally Seaberry’s house and was in a rather isolated location. I personally think some aspect of it needs to be preserved either in the original location or in a museum. Hopefully a decision is made before too long.
Po Monkey had a motto for his place: “Come as strangers, leave as friends”. I never heard him say it myself. But in some ways it encapsulates life as a transplant to Cleveland. We all come here as strangers from all corners of the country. Everyone is equally shocked by life in the Delta. And through our shared experiences we end up making friends we never thought we would. More than anything that’s what makes life here different. There are places – churches, community gatherings, etc – which draw people together. The town is small enough for many people to know most everyone else. And folks around here seem genuinely happy.
Meanwhile there are other changes afoot. There are two new hotels planned for Cleveland. The hope is the new Grammy museum will attract an influx of people. It’s a reminder of how, as good as life is for some of us, much of the town still struggles. It is still isolated and much of the blues tourism bypasses us. Some people are working to change things. So despite the loss of Po Monkey’s, life continues ever onward.