The Hotel Chisca has a solid place in blues history as the home of radio station WHBQ, whose DJ Dewey Phillips was the first DJ to play an Elvis Presley record on air when he played Elvis Presley’s That’s All Right (Mama) on 6 July 1954.
Elvis Presley had recorded That’s All Right (Mama) at Sam Phillips‘ Sun Records at 706 Union Avenue on 5 July 1954. On 6 July 1954 Sam Phillips delivered a copy of the single to Dewey Phillips (no relation) at the WHBQ studio at the Hotel Chisca. Dewey Phillips played That’s All Right (Mama) on his Red, Hot And Blue radio show the same day and the rest, as they say, is history.
Here is a photo we took of the Hotel Chisca building before the renovations.
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The author, Matthew Taub, contacted MississippiBluesTravellers.com by email with a request for information about Robert Johnson’s grave sites. We put him onto T. DeWayne Moore of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund and Gayle Dean Wardlow, who found Robert Johnson’s death certificate in the Leflore County archives in the 1970’s.
Ralph Lembo was a store owner and music promoter during the 1920’s and 1930’s in Leflore County, Mississippi who obtained recording contracts for musicians like Bukka White and Rube Lacey.
Ralph Lembo’s store in Itta Bena, Leflore County, Mississippi is still standing at 114 Humphreys Street in downtown Itta Bena.
Ralph Lembo’s historical reputation has been tarnished through articles by blues historians, including Gayle Dean Wardlow and Ed Komara, who wrote that musicians considered Ralph Lembo untrustworthy. Gayle Dean Wardlow has written that Charley Patton refused to work with Ralph Lembo because he considered Lembo untrustworthy.
New research by T. DeWayne Moore of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund suggests that Ralph Lembo’s posthumous reputation has been tarnished unfairly and the criticism of Ralph Lembo as being untrustworthy is itself untrustworthy.
“HOOKS BROTHERS PHOTOGRAPHY ESTABLISHED IN 1907 – Established by Henry Hooks, Sr. and his brother Robert B. Hooks, Hooks Brothers Photography Studio was the second oldest continuously operating black business in Memphis. Located during its early years at 164 Beale Street, it next moved to Linden Avenue and finally to McLemore Avenue where it ceased operation after a destructive fire in 1979.”
The rear of this marker reads:
“Covering much of the 20th century, the company chronicled and documented the history and lives of black Memphis and Memphians. Among the subjects and luminaries captured on film by the Hooks Brothers were Booker T. Washington, W.C. Handy, Robert R. Church, the beginning days of the Memphis NAACP, the Lincoln League, early high school and college graduating classes from Howe Institute, LeMoyne College and many other activities of black society and ordinary people.”
The office and studio space used by the former Hooks Brothers Photography is now the Absinthe Pool Room, part of the King’s Palace Cafe located downstairs at 162 Beale Street.
Many of the original features of this space are still intact and it is possible to get some idea of what the Hooks Brothers’ offices and studio may have looked like in the mid-1930’s when the confirmed studio portrait of Robert Johnson was taken here circa 1934-1938.
Here are some photos of how the space now appears.
The photo above shows what the entrance area of the Absinthe Pool Room looks like today.
This is the second floor room you first enter after coming up the staircase from Beale Street. The Absinthe Pool Room uses this space as a bar and sitting area.
The main architectural features of interest today are the original wooden wainscoting, transoms above the doors and the interior windows that open in all the interior walls. The interior sliding windows are an interesting remnant of the days before air conditioning. Interior windows that opened allowed air to circulate more freely through the interior spaces, allowing more effective ventilation and circulation of interior air.
The photos below show the current appearance of what we believe to have been a room used by Hooks Brothers as a photography studio. These rooms overlook Beale Street and have large south facing windows overlooking Beale Street which allow natural light to enter. These are the only rooms in the space with natural light, which leads us to believe Hooks Brothers Photography would have used them as studios. If so, this is where the confirmed studio portrait of Robert Johnson was taken.
These photos show the view looking toward the north, away from the Beale Street frontage of the building.
The photos below show another view of the same room shown in the photos above.
This view looks south toward the Beale Street frontage of the building. The large windows face south onto Beale Street and allow natural light into the interior space at the front of the building.