In a recent CBS Sunday Morning segment, reporter Anthony Mason interviewed singer Rosanne Cash during a trip in the South. Cash discussed the places in the southern states that inspired the songs on her new album, The River & The Thread.
In the video segment below, Cash visits places like Robert Johnson’s grave, a location related to Emmett Till, and the bridge from Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” She also shows us the Arkansas boyhood home of her father, Johnny Cash. Check out the interesting story.
What is your favorite location connected to music? Leave your two cents in the comments.
Jurors had acquitted the two white men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, of the 1955 kidnapping and murder of Till. But after the acquittal, in the magazine article, Bryant and Milam described the killing.
After beating and shooting Till, they used barbed wire to tie a heavy cotton gin fan around his neck to weigh down his body when they threw him in the Tallahatchie River.
Throughout the ordeal, the two men could not break the spirit of the teenager. Till maintained that he was as good as them and that he had dated white women.
Till was a 14-year-old African-American teenager from Chicago. Prior to his death, he was visiting Mississippi relatives in 1955.
In Money, Mississippi, he went to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market to buy some candy. Reportedly, while he was in the store, the teen either whistled at or requested a date from Carolyn Bryant, who ran the store with her husband Roy, who was out of town.
As word spread around town about the incident, the husband Roy Bryant returned to town and contacted his half-brother J.W. Miliam. A few days after the encounter in the store between Till and Byrant’s wife, Miliam and Bryant abducted Till from his great-uncle’s home. Three days later Till’s body was found in the river.
Authorities arrested Miliam and Bryant, who were tried and acquitted by an all-white all-male jury. Many were outraged with the acquittal, and some credit the events with helping inspire the Civil Rights Movement.
The events also inspired a young Bob Dylan to write about the Till in the song “The Death of Emmett Till.” He performed the song on a radio program in 1962, explaining the tune came from a song by folk-musician Len Chandler.
On the March 11, 1962 radio show, the host flattered the young Dylan’s skills. But Dylan responded, “I just wrote that one about last week, I think.”
Relatively consistent with Dylan’s comments, in Keys to the Rain: The Definitive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, Oliver Trager reports that the 22-year-old Dylan wrote the song around February 1962. That date means it is one of the first songs Dylan ever wrote. Trager also suggests that Emmett Till’s death may have affected Dylan because they were born only months apart.
Although Dylan initially was proud of “The Death of Emmett Till,” he later seemed embarrassed by its literalness. He claimed he was just trying to write about something topical. He even went further and said that it was a “bullshit song.”
It’s true that the song does not rise to the poetic level of the more brilliant similarly themed song, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” But “The Death of Emmett Till” was a good start for the young songwriter, and it helped highlight a great injustice.