Mississippi Department of Archives & History
This Mississippi Department of Archives and History marker commemorating the Rhythm Night Club fire is located on St. Catherine Street, near Dr. Martin Luther King Ave., in Natchez, Mississippi.
The GPS Location of this marker is: N 31° 33.553′ W 91° 23.851′
The marker reads:
“RHYTHM NIGHT CLUB – On April 23, 1940, 209 African-Americans died in a fire at this site. An overflow crowd, which included civic and cultural leaders, had come to hear the Walter Barnes Orchestra of Chicago. Considered among America’s most deadly fires, the tragedy affected the entire Natchez community.”
Several songs were written about the Rhythm Club fire, including The Natchez Burning by Howlin’ Wolf and Fire At Natchez, Great Fire of Natchez and Natchez Fire (Burning) by John Lee Hooker. Note that John Lee Hooker’s lyric mistakenly has the fire occurring in 1936, not 1940.
The photos below show the site of the Rhythm Night Club fire as it appears today. The small building on the site is a museum dedicated to the events surrounding the fire.
The photo below shows St. Catherines Street in Natchez as it now appears. The site of the Rhythm Night Club fire is at the lower right of the photo.
The buildings in the photo appear to have been standing at the time of the Rhythm Club fire in 1940.
Here is a documentary by Bryan Burch and a short video from Natchez National Historical Park about the Rhythm Club fire.
There is another Mississippi Department of Archives and History marker at the Holy Family Catholic Church, one block away on St. Catherine’s Street.
The Mississippi Blues Trail has also placed a commemorative marker in Natchez for The Natchez Burning but, for some reason which we don’t understand, has chosen to place the Mississippi Blues Trail marker several blocks from this site rather than here at the actual site of the Rhythm Night Club fire.
For more on the Rhythm Night Club fire, we recommend The Chitlin’ Circuit And The Road To Rock And Roll by Preston Lauterbach, which contains good information on band leader Walter Barnes and on the Rhythm Night Club fire.
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