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Traveling Around - Ferriday, LA - Delta Music Museum - Jerry Lee Lewis
As part of my birthday trip to Michigan I'd decided I wanted to stop at the Delta Music Museum and learn more about Jerry Lee Lewis. Ferriday, Louisiana, is just west of Natchez, Mississippi. It is a small town that saw better days when cotton was king and the railroad was more important. The museum is at 218 Louisiana St and is easy to reach. It appeared that on street parking would not be a problem. There has been fluctuation in the hours that it remains open as funding from the state becomes scarce so it is wise to check the schedule in advance. The phone at the museum is 318 - 757- 9999. Information is also available on their website.
Many of the inhabitants of the town were imports from other parts of the cotton country and many were related. Three young cousins used to play piano and sing for the fun of it. Most of their music during their early years was gospel music. Those three cousins rose to fame. They were Jimmy Swaggart, Mickey Gilley, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The museum was originally established to celebrate their lives and accomplishments.
The museum operated on a very small scale as the Ferriday Museum starting in 1995. In the early 2000's, a grant from the state of Lousiana enabled the volunteer group to purchase the inactive post office building and refurbish it to meet public standards. It opened in 2002 as the Delta Music Museum under the sponsorship of the Louisiana Office of the Secretary of State Museum Division. It relies on donations and the sale of souvenirs to support its activities.
Volunteers make up the force that runs the museum. On the day we visited "Jane" was the volunteer on duty and she made us welcome. She regaled us with many stories about the town and its famous cousins. One example of the gossipy kind of information she passed on was that Mickey Gilley's last name was originally pronounced "Jilley" (and in Ferriday is still pronounced that way) but was changed when he bought the large bar in Texas in partnership with Sherwood Cryer (a west coast club owner) who thought the new pronunciation would be more saleable. Jane was very personable and very knowledgeable. She made our visit interesting and educational.
In the entryway there is a diorama of the three cousins grouped around a piano. Further into the museum are informative displays not only about the cousins but about other inductees into the museum. There are now 21 persons honored by the museum. The one pictured is about Jerry Lee Lewis and much of the museum is devoted to him.
Also prominently displayed are exhibits about Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart. There are exhibits about the other musical inductees plus two inductees unrelated to Delta music but are famous persons that grew up in Ferriday. They are newscaster Howard K. Smith and the wife of Jack Warner who was Ann Boyar when she lived in Ferriday.
There is a video viewing room where a video recording is played that provides excerpts of performances by the members of the Museum. Additionally, the video provides information about the origin of their interest in music. Persons included are the cousins, Conway Twitty, Aaron Neville, Fats Domino, Johnny Horton, and Irma Thomas among others. There is a diorama of Elvis (although Elvis is not a member).
We spent about an hour at the museum. Jane would have talked even longer and told us more of the history of the town. Among other things she explained to us that Jerry Lee would sneak into Haney's Big Music House (just down the street from the museum) to listen to negro performers. He'd hide under a table and listen. Legend has two stories. One is that Lee Haney would catch him and throw him out. Another is that the entertainers would invite him onstage and teach him various musical methods on the piano.
By turning back from the museum and crossing the road into town, a curious person can find the home that Jerry Lee lived in while a young person. It was owned by his sister - Frankie Jean Lewis Terrell - and was run as a museum/convenience store until she died in 2016.
We had a good time visiting and learned many things about Jerry Lee. My birthday trip to Ferriday was fun and informative.