Editor's ChoiceFeaturedMississippi Blues Trail Series

Mississippi Blues Trail Series: Club Ebony

By Deborah Chatham
Photos by Stephen Anderson

The Southland Music Line continues our Mississippi Blues Trail Series at the marker recognizing Club Ebony at 404 Hannah Avenue in Indianola, Mississippi. Club Ebony has a long and storied history since its inception during the early days of the Chitlin’ Circuit. The term Chitlin’ Circuit indicated Black-run venues across the region during segregation.

Johnny Jones first opened Club Ebony in 1948 to host big bands of the day. Unlike the smaller juke joints, entrepreneurs needed a venue to host larger bands such as the Count Basie Orchestra and the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. New postwar industries brought spending money into the town, and patrons were ready to socialize, dance, and enjoy the new economy. Ruby Edwards bought the club in 1958 and lived in the back section with her daughter, Sue Evans, who was married to B.B. King from 1958 – 1966. Club Ebony provided a welcome space for Black musicians to make a living when they were not welcome in other places.

Club Ebony may have been considered B.B. King’s hometown club, but it was much more. Generations of blues, soul, and rock ‘n roll performers had a place to make a living, but the club also provided a community hub for patrons to eat, socialize, and dance. In 1975, Willie and Mary Shepard bought Club Ebony and ran the club for the next 33 years. During this time, the Shepards recruited an impressive roster of talent, including James Brown, Denise LaSalle, Bobby Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, and Ike Turner, to name a few. B.B. King began returning to Indianola in 1980 to headline an annual festival held in his honor. Each year, the festival culminated with King performing at Club Ebony. In 2008, B.B. King bought Club Ebony and returned each year to perform until he died in 2015.

Top photo: The Mississippi Blues Trail Marker honoring Club Ebony in Indianola, MS; Above photo: Terry “Harmonica” Bean and Robert Terrell, deputy director of the B.B. King Museum, at Club Ebony in Indianola, MS

The Southland Music Line took a road trip to attend the Mississippi Songwriters Festival: Delta Region on June 16-17, 2023. One unexpected but exciting surprise came when Stephen “Andy” Anderson photographed the Mississippi Blues Trail sign at Club Ebony. Robert Terrell, deputy director of the B.B. King Museum, and Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Delta blues musician, emerged from the building and graciously invited us for a tour. Seeing the original posters, photographs, and stage where so many iconic bluesmen performed was a thrill. Terrell told us about the extensive renovations that had taken place and the recent reopening of Club Ebony.

The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center opened in 2008, the same year that B.B. King bought Club Ebony and donated it to the museum for preservation. It became financially unfeasible to keep the club open as a traditional venue. For several years, the club functioned as an event space. The pandemic of 2020 saw the club closed, and in 2021, upon reopening, the staff realized that the building had structural damage and the venue was closed. Fortunately, the museum staff seized the opportunity to secure restoration funding from various sources, both public and private. The museum curators obtained over $800,000 to complete major renovations to keep the vintage look of the structure while incorporating new features. As a result, the stage was moved from the side of the building to the back, so upon entering, the first thing a visitor sees is the stage. The renovators built a green room to accommodate visiting artists, a classic ticket booth with a window, a sound booth, and cameras to record live-streaming broadcasts. The vintage features the curators maintained included: the original stamped tin ceiling, the neon lighting recessed in the walls, and the glass block columns.

Club Ebony in Indianola, MS

Club Ebony celebrated reopening on June 1-3, 2023 with a special three-day event. Big Time Rhythm & Blues Band, a Delta blues staple, opened the weekend festivities with a performance on Thursday. The Neal Brothers “Blues Royalty” from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and popular blues and gospel musician Mr. Sipp took the stage on Friday. The sensational Susan Tedeshi was joined by Tony Coleman’s Silent Partners Band to close out the festivities on Saturday. 

This iconic venue will continue its blues contributions into the future while celebrating its past. The Southland Music Line looks forward to the opportunity to attend future shows and celebrate the legacy of Club Ebony.

Club Ebony in Indianola, MS

Club Ebony in Indianola, MS

From left: Johnny Jones, Club Ebony founder, in the 1940s (photo courtesy of John Jones, Jr. and the B.B. King Museum); Leland enterpreneur Ruby Edwards took over the Club Ebony operation after the Jones family left the business (photo courtesy of Sue King Evans); and Mary Shepard with B.B. King (photo by Jim Abbott, 1977)

The Mississippi Blues Trail Marker honoring Club Ebony in Indianola, MS

Top photo: Club Ebony in Indianola, MS in the 1950s (photo courtesy of the B.B. King Museum); Middle photo: B.B. King at Club Ebony in 2005 (photo courtesy of Barry Brechiesen); and Bottom photo: B.B. King and Sue King cut celebratory cake in Indianola, MS, after saying their wedding vows in Detroit (photo by Henry C. Anderson, 1958, courtesy of Sue King Evans)

The Mississippi Blues Trail Marker honoring Club Ebony in Indianola, MS

Click Here for Other Articles in our Mississippi Blues Trail Series.

● Barretta, S. (May 7, 2023). Historic Club Ebony. Delta Magazine.
● Beaugez, J. (May 29, 2023) Club Ebony, a Historic Blues Venue Tied to B.B. King, Rises Again. The New York Times.
● Mississippi Blues Trail official website.
● Mississippi Blues Travellers official website.

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