Lightnin' Strikes

The late legendary Houston bluseman finally gets an official historical marker.

So how big a deal is it, really, for Hopkins to have his own historical marker?

Yes, it's huge for people like Noise, Davis, the Blues Society folks and others who care a great deal about celebrating and preserving Houston's musical heritage. And in a city of almost three million people, you could probably fit all of us who fall under that category into the Continental Club at the same time.

For some perspective, Noise asked that very question to someone else who helped make the marker a reality, Down in Houston author, Houston Community College professor and Hopkins Marker Fund donator Dr. Roger Wood.

"While part of the Houston family, especially the African-American part, has been hip to Lightnin's genius and achievement since the mid-20th century, that legacy has generally been ignored or undervalued by the power structure of Houston," he answered.

"It is a good thing when that unjust civic oversight can be addressed, at least symbolically, and even belatedly," Wood added. "It is good for those who have long known Lightnin' in person or via his music, as well as for those who are now hearing his name for the first time or will learn of it in the future because of this officially sanctioned marker."

By the way, Hopkins's plaque won't be the first music-related historical marker erected in Houston. It'll be the second.

A few miles north of downtown, a marker salutes the importance of zydeco to the Creoles who moved to Houston from Louisiana and settled the Fifth Ward enclave once known as Frenchtown. This plaque, located near the intersection of the Eastex Freeway and Collingsworth, mentions longtime Frenchtown resident Clifton Chenier and two neighborhood zydeco venues: the late, lamented Continental Ballroom (formerly Johnson's, after its original owner), and the Silver Slipper, which is still open.

That marker went up all the way back in 2007.

The King of Dowling Street

The text R. Eric Davis has proposed for the Lightnin' Hopkins Historical Marker:

"African-American Blues singer and guitarist Sam Lightnin' Hopkins was born March 15, 1912, in Centerville, Texas. Initially learning to play guitar from his brother, Hopkins began his musical career in Central Texas in the Twenties under the tutelage of Texas blues pioneers Alger "Texas" Alexander and Blind Lemon Jefferson. After years of traveling Texas and as far east as Mississippi, Hopkins came to Houston in the mid-1940s and took up residence in the Third Ward.

"Hopkins quickly became a mainstay in the early Houston music clubs, particularly those located around Dowling Street in the Third Ward. In 1946 Hopkins was "discovered" by a talent scout for Aladdin Records and departed for Los Angeles to make his first recordings. It was during these sessions that Hopkins picked up the nickname "Lightnin'."

"Out of these sessions, "Katy Mae" became Hopkins' first hit record. Returning to Houston, Hopkins began recording for the Gold Star label, one of the earliest Houston labels to record blues. Hopkins recorded two certifiable hits in "Short Haired Woman" and "Baby Please Don't Go." Despite early recording success, Hopkins could still be found playing Third Ward and Dowling Street establishments.

"Unlike many early blues greats, Hopkins maintained a regular playing and recording career. During the Fifties Hopkins rarely played outside Texas, but prolifically recorded songs. Larger recognition came during the 1960s with a surging interest in folk and blues music, which led to Hopkins playing before more integrated audiences and Carnegie Hall in New York City.

"Recording approximately 100 albums and 600-800 songs during his historic career, the Texas-born blues giant died of cancer at age 69 on January 30, 1982."

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