Marked by a Delta Blues Trail Marker, Club Ebony sits under the giant oak trees at 404 Hanna Street in Indianola. The building is a pale green wooden structure with a front porch that sits low on the quiet street. The club has changed little through the years. It is a place of entertainment and of memories.
In the early and mid-1900s juke joints fulfilled the need for community and fellowship. After working all week in the fields or at other jobs, people came from miles around to enjoy the social scene and to listen to the music of the Delta. Indianola’s residents were divided by railroad tracks in the 1940s, but the music often reached across racial and class boundaries. In 1943 Johnny Jones opened a club to allow people to relax and work off pent-up energy. First known as the Jones Night Spot, the simple structure later became one of the oldest and most famous juke joints in the Delta, Club Ebony, a living room home away from home for many locals and musicians.
The original club had recessed lighting that gave an orange glow to the dance floor and bar, an idea Jones took from a club in France. According to local legend, the name changed from Jones Night Spot to Club Ebony around 1950 when Ruby Edwards, former mother-in-law of B. B. King, rented the club from Jones. After Jones died, Edwards purchased the building and ran the club until 1974, when Mary and Willie Shepard purchased Club Ebony. The Shepards divorced, and for the next thirty years Mary Shepard ran the club alone. She struggled to keep Club Ebony afloat and endured the hardships that came along with the business. In April 2009 King purchased Club Ebony.
Numerous local musicians and nationally and internationally known musical greats have played at Club Ebony, among them King, Bobby Rush, David Lee Durham, Howlin’ Wolf, Ray Charles, Little Milton, Little Richard, Ruth Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, Jerry Butler, Lou Rawls, Jackie Wilson, Willie Clayton, Bobby Bland, Albert King, Tyrone Davis, Clarence Carter, Ted Taylor, Candy Staton, Rogers featuring Zap, the Staple Singers, McKinley Brown, Bennie Latimore, Marvin Sease, Nathaniel Kimble, Betty Swann, Ruth Davis, Brown Sugar, Jessie Robertson, O. V. Wright, John Lee Hooker, and Rufus Brown.
The rich, soulful music heard in Club Ebony continues to serve an important role in the community and the world. Along with the B. B. King Museum, Club Ebony helps mark Indianola as an important site in blues history.
- Jennie Gunn, Carroll Gunn, and John Gunn, The Life of Mary Shepard: Queen of the Legendary Club Ebony (2007)