Blues Musicians’ Graves

Robert Johnson is one of the most influential musicians in blues history but much of his life is shrouded in mystery.

The exact location of Robert Johnson’s grave is a matter of dispute, as are many other details of Robert Johnson’s life.

There are three reputed Robert Johnson grave sites in Mississippi: this one at Payne Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, one at the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Morgan City and one at the Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Money, Mississippi. All three reputed Robert Johnson grave sites are in Leflore County, Mississippi.

Payne Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Quito, Leflore County, Mississippi, site of one of three reputed Robert Johnson graves,
Payne Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Quito, Leflore County, Mississippi, site of one of three reputed Robert Johnson graves,

The U.S. National Parks Service website states emphatically that Payne Chapel cemetery is the site of Robert Johnson’s grave but notes there is some dispute as to whether Robert Johnson is actually buried in Morgan City. The U.S.N.P.S. website cites David “Honeyboy” Edwards as stating that Robert Johnson’s sister moved his remains to Payne Chapel from Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Morgan City. The U.S. National Parks Service website says nothing about the Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church site near Money, Mississippi.

Reputed Robert Johnson grave, Payne Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Quito, Leflore County, Mississippi.
Reputed Robert Johnson grave, Payne Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Quito, Leflore County, Mississippi.
Reputed Robert Johnson grave, Payne Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Quito, Leflore County, Mississippi.
Reputed Robert Johnson grave marker, Payne Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Quito, Leflore County, Mississippi.
David Honeyboy Edwards autobiography, The World Don't Owe Me Nothing. Book cover.
David Honeyboy Edwards autobiography, The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing. Book cover.

David “Honeyboy” Edwards’ autobiography doesn’t actually mention Robert Johnson’s remains being moved to Payne Chapel. Instead, “Honeyboy” Edwards says that Robert Johnson’s sister had Robert Johnson’s remains exhumed and reburied in a proper casket at the original grave site. According to “Honeyboy” Edwards’ autobiography:

“Robert’s sister came down from Chicago to bury him, but when she got to Greenwood it was too late. The county [Leflore County] had already buried him, put him in the ground. Back in that time they didn’t let you stay on top too long. They went on and put him in the ground, and she quick had him dug right back up and put him in a casket and put him down in the same place [emphasis added], put him in a decent casket. He was twenty-six years old.”

We discount the Payne Chapel site as the actual grave site of Robert Johnson because Robert Johnson’s death certificate, located in the 1970’s by researcher Gayle Dean Wardlow, clearly states that Robert Johnson was buried at “Zion Church.”

That documentary evidence suggests Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Morgan City or the Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Money, Mississippi as being far more likely Robert Johnson gravesites than this one at Payne Chapel. David “Honeyboy” Edwards’ statement that Robert Johnson’s sister had Robert Johnson’s body exhumed, placed in “a decent casket” and re-interred in the original grave in which Leflore County buried him reinforces the conclusion that Robert Johnson is buried at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Morgan City or the Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Money, Mississippi, rather than at the Payne Chapel cemetery.

“Robert Johnson” was a fairly common name among African-American males in Mississippi in the early 20th century, so it is not unreasonable that there are many graves for men named “Robert Johnson” from this period. This undoubtedly contributes to the confusion over Robert Johnson’s actual burial site.

Here is a page on the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund website supporting the idea of Payne Chapel as the actual site of Robert Johnson’s grave.

We have the greatest respect for the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund and we support their efforts, but we lean toward the Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church cemetery near Money, Mississippi as being the most likely site of Robert Johnson’s grave.

Here is a video supporting the idea that Robert Johnson’s grave is at Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church cemetery near Money, Mississippi.

Reputed Robert Johnson grave, Payne Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Quito, Leflore County, Mississippi.
Reputed Robert Johnson grave, Payne Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Quito, Leflore County, Mississippi.

Recommended Recordings

We consider Robert Johnson’s Complete Recordings to be an essential component for any blues fan’s music collection. Our Recommendation is currently Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings – Centennial Edition, released on Sony Legacy in 2011.

CD cover, Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings. This is the edition we are currently recommending.
CD cover, Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings. This is the edition we are currently recommending.

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