My last column told the story of my uncle Roy and Annie Callais’ “Charivari” but no picture. I hereby remedy that. (See picture: Me in ten-gallon hat, wife Dot. --- We had been married seven months --Roy and Annie.) The picture was taken on May 25, 1955, the eve of the third annual Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Day in Meridian Mississippi. Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers’ reception, the big parade and concert was tomorrow. When informed that I was going my friend Mrs. Jimmie “Carrie” Rodgers informed me that tickets would await me at the Hotel Meridian ballroom where we also had our reservations.
Now my story of the FIRST Jimmie Rodgers Day continues.
I hadn’t seen Mrs. Rodgers since that meeting at the radio station in New Orleans and our lunch at Antoine’s in 1950, but she called me in early 1952 to tell me how Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow was trying to get a special day to commemorate Jimmie Rodgers in Meridian, Mississippi. In December she called again to tell me that a special day was set for May 26, 1953, but that the city fathers was calling it Jimmie Rodgers and the Railroadmen Memorial Day. She also said a special reception would be held for her and if I went, she would have tickets for me, and that is what this story is about.
To continue. Johnny Schouest and I picked up Hal Benson in Thibodaux and headed to New Orleans. Hal asked me to relate how Mrs. Rodgers and I had become friends and I gave him a brief summary.
In 1947 a group of teen agers and I discovered long forgotten records of “America’s Blue Yodeler” the Elvis of the Great Depression era. She answered with a box of memorabilia from her husband’s career and a meeting with her in New Orleans in 1950, but that’s another story.
As we crossed the Huey P. Long bridge, the only one then, Hal said “take St. Charles Avenue” which I did until he told me “stop here” which was at a fancy home with a small sign that read “Corinne Dunbar.”
“Who is Corinne Dunbar?” I asked. “That’s my mother and that’s her restaurant” he answered. “That’s a small sign” I answered. “She doesn’t need it. Her guest list is at full capacity for the next year or so” he said as he gave me a brief history.
He told me that his mother had inherited her name and home from her mother who had opened her restaurant in the middle of the Great Depression. Her husband had died and she didn’t want that life to end. At her death in 1947 Hal’s mother had taken over but altered nothing. This was how it went:
Everyone arrived at the same time, was greeted by a maid or butler, and seated in one of the Belle-Epoque-style parlors. The set menu of the night was served to every guest, never called a customer client or patron. The idea was so engaging that a reservation at Corinne Dunbar’s became the toughest to secure anywhere in town. This was still the situation when we arrived.
“Hi Mom” he said as we were escorted through the back alley to the kitchen. They eventually had not seen each other in some time. “Can you fix us a sandwich?” he asked.
“I’ll do no such thing” she answered “you’ll eat what my guests eat and here you’ll sit’ as she pointed to a table in the kitchen.
So, Hal, Johnny and I sat down to eat a seven-course meal in one of the fancier joints in the Crescent City. What a meal!
We left to borrow a tape recorder from WDSU.
We arrived and met long time announcer and friend of Hal, Bill Stanley. Hal was well known and liked and managed to borrow one of only two tape recorders they owned.
Introduced in America in 1948, it was still a big, heavy machine which barely fit in the trunk, but Hal insisted we bring it. “We’ll get some great interviews and radio spots” he said. We did….and did not. I’ll tell you about its next column. BYE NOW!