The Legends of Mississippi Blues You’ve Never Heard Of

The Photo Blog
Nov. 11 2013 2:00 PM

The Legends of Mississippi Blues You’ve Never Heard Of

IMG_6941 copy
Super Chikan is a bluesman from Clarksdale, Miss. He builds his own guitars out of just about anything.

Lou Bopp

Lou Bopp was mostly shooting corporate photos on Wall Street when the financial crash of 2008 dried up his client list. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s when he started thinking about photographing blues culture. Bopp had long been a fan of the music, so he knew he had to go to Clarksdale, Miss., and surrounding areas—a hub for those playing the Delta style of blues—in order to track down some of its living legends. “A lot of these guys are old, and I tried to shoot as many as I could before we lose them all,” he said. “A lot of these guys I shot are as good as B.B. King—they just don't have the same notoriety. I think they're just as important to the genre.”

Bopp traveled by car down Route 61—often referred to as the “Blues Highway”—looking for the same inspiration it has provided to many blues musicians. Along the way, he ventured down dirt roads and stopped into juke joints, which he also captured as part of this series, where some of the genre’s greatest practitioners still play. “Once you get off the beaten path, there are some mind-blowing places not many people like myself have gone to,” he said. “It's a pretty unique experience, and it's going away. As these musicians die, the juke joints die as well. They're kind of on the same trajectory.”

Big George Brock, St. Louis, May 2009

Lou Bopp

Do-Drop-In_MG_7116 copy
The Do Drop Inn in Shelby, Miss.

Lou Bopp

_MG_5521 copy
Po Monkey, owner of Po Monkey's juke joint in Merigold, Miss.

Lou Bopp

Bopp took photos of the musicians performing for archival purposes, but he was more interested in presenting formal environmental portraits. “I shot people behind stage, at their homes, at juke joints during the day or at night, after their shows, on railroad tracks and in fields,” Bopp said. “I was just trying to marry the subject to the environment.”


Bopp has returned to Mississippi dozens of times over the years. He’s photographed at least 70 musicians so far, including many, like T-Model Ford, just before their deaths. He often stayed at the homes of his subjects in order to get to know them better. “When I go there, I like to hang with people and kind of get into their lives a little bit, instead of just showing up, shooting a portrait, and leaving. I try to get a little deeper,” he said.

“Lou Bopp: Portraits of the Blues” is on display at Sheldon Art Galleries in St. Louis through Dec. 28. Check out Bopp’s upcoming Web series on the Mississippi blues, as well as the book, Hidden History of Mississippi Blues, in which his photos appear. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

BOPP-Pat Thomas_MG_6840
Pat Thomas, Leland, Miss., May 2011

Lou Bopp

Biker, Holly Ridge, Miss., June 2010

Lou Bopp

BOPP_MG_0976-Pink Umbrella
State Street, Clarksdale, Miss., April 2011

Lou Bopp

Bopp_MG_8008-Couple at Blue Front
Couple at Blue Front Café, Bentonia, Miss., December 2011

Lou Bopp

Elmo Williams, Natchez, Miss., July 2009

Lou Bopp

Jimmy Anderson, Natchez, Miss., July 2009

Lou Bopp



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows


The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.


More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. What Exactly Is Holding Us Back?

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 5:56 PM Watch Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, and More on New YouTube Channel
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?