Houston Music

Lightnin' Hopkins Finally Gets What's Coming To Him

This week Rocks Off is counting down our choices for the Top 5 local music stories of 2010.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Coming in at No. 5 on our year-end list is the story that took the longest, and also the shortest, amount of time to develop. When Centerville-born bluesman Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins passed away in 1982, he counted musicians like Townes Van Zandt, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Ringo Starr and Bob Dylan among his many fans. However, the City of Houston was not on that list.

For nearly 30 years, any efforts to obtain any sort of official memorial to Hopkins within the city where he spent approximately the last 40 years of his life fell on deaf ears. Late City Councilwoman Eleanor Tinsley once suggested naming a park after Hopkins, an idea that was voted down by others who thought granting such an honor would be the same as encouraging vices such as drinking and gambling, both of which Hopkins was known to do from time to time.

Then in Summer 2009, R. Eric Davis, a private citizen and former cataloger at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and his daughter visited Hopkins' grave in Houston's Forest Park Cemetery. They almost couldn't find it.

"We were stunned," Davis told Rocks Off back then. "We found his headstone and it's this 12-18 inch slab of granite. I was taken aback that this was the only memorial this guy has, for all that he did."

That November, Davis submitted a proposal to the Harris County Historical Commission for an official Texas State Historical Marker for Hopkins, to be placed on the grounds of Project Row Houses in Third Ward, a part of town Hopkins spent so much time in he eventually became known as "The King of Dowling Street."

Almost exactly a year later, Davis was choking back tears at the marker's dedication ceremony.

TIMELINE:

  • Summer 2009: Davis and daughter Hannah visit Hopkins' grave in Forest Park Memorial Cemetery.
  • November 18, 2009: Rocks Off first reports Davis' efforts to secure a historical marker for Hopkins.
  • November 30, 2009: The Harris County Historical Association approves Davis' proposal for the marker.
  • January 17, 2010: Davis' campaign to raise funds to pay for the marker reaches its goal of $1,800.
  • February 1, 2010: The Texas Historical Commission approves Davis' proposal for the marker:
  • February 11, 2010: Davis recounts his efforts to obtain a marker for Hopkins in Rocks Off's final "Noise" column for the Houston Press' print edition.
  • June 2010: The Texas Historical Commission approves Davis' proposed text for the marker.
  • September 2010: The marker is cast and delivered to Davis, who stores it in his garage.
  • November 13, 2010: The marker is dedicated on the grounds of Project Row Houses in Third Ward, near "Lightnin's Corner." House of Blues helps pick up the tab for the ceremony.
  • See Rocks Off's slideshow of the dedication ceremony here.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray