by Dennis Townsend, Contributing Writer
Just outside of Toledo, Ohio is the sleepy little farm community of Swanton, Ohio, mostly populated with farmers who spend long hours in the fields tending their crops. While this may not be out of the norm, what makes this community unique is that it is also home to a number of African-American farms. Descendants of former sharecroppers, who migrated from the southern plantations and moved north after the Civil War. Most were headed for Canada but quite a few families settled in northwest Ohio and Michigan. Growing up in the inner-city as I did, it was a treat to jump in the car with the family and go out to the “country”, as we city dwellers called Swanton, and visit my uncle’s farm. Being a young lad of just ten years old, and with my uncle having one of the biggest farms in the area, going to the farm was just like going to an amusement park. There was pig riding, corn-shucking, and homemade ice cream. But the real fun was up the road about 2 miles at a place known as Hines Farm where along with a go-cart track for us kids, was an outdoor stage which they called an "open air juke joint" plus the enclosed nite-club where some of the most popular up and coming blues bands would entertain. It was on 32 acres of land and was the major entertainment venue of African-Americans in that community from 1930 to the mid 1970's.
I can remember this one particular week-end that my father packed us up and we headed to Swanton because there was an entertainer coming to Hines Farm that all the adults wanted to see. Tickets were at a premium but I remember my mother somehow got 4 tickets which even surprised my dad. The entertainer that everybody was going to see was none other than B.B. King. I remember my mother and her friends talking about the show a whole month after the fact, and over the years, he performed numerous concerts at Hines Farm and that’s when I started listening to the master play the blues, first out of curiosity, then out of admiration. As a child I picked up my mothers taste in music, and believe me when I say she had great taste in rhythm and blues and knew a great talent when she heard it. It’s been over 50 years since that day in the country, and on May, 14, 2015, the former cotton picker from the Mississippi Delta, who became affectionately know as B.B. (Blues Boy} King, passed away in Las Vegas, Nevada at the young age of 89.
The more than 500 people who squeezed into Bell Grove Missionary Baptist Church just off B.B. King Road in Indianola, Mississippi to pay their last respects were surrounded by black and white photos of the man smiling and hugging the love of his life,the iconic guitar he named Lucille. More than 4,000 people viewed his open coffin and the look on most of the faces showed the grim reality that we had lost another legend. As time moves on we will lose more of these great pioneers of music's past but let us not forget the valuable contributions they have made to our culture. We called Elvis the all around King in general because he was good at all music from blues to gospel, we called Michael Jackson the King of pop, and now we have lost the undisputed King of the guitar blues. Whoever takes over these titles will have some giant shoes to fill. Rest well Mr. King, for you have truly earned it.
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