Known as one of the last rural juke joints in Mississippi, Po’ Monkey’s was operated by Willie “Po’ Monkey” Seaberry from 1963 until his death in 2016. Located in the Mississippi Delta outside the small town of Merigold and not far from the campus of Delta State University, Po’ Monkey’s was known for its kooky décor and unique atmosphere that brought together patrons from different walks of life. In its early days the club was frequented by locals, but during the 1990s it began to attract college students from Delta State as well as blues tourists looking for an “authentic” juke joint experience. Po’ Monkey’s gained international fame as one of the most important cultural sites related to blues and American music. Annie Leibovitz photographed the club, Richard Grant wrote about it in his memoir Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, and Anthony Bourdain included it in the Mississippi Delta episode of his CNN series Parts Unknown.
The club was typical of modern juke joints in that it rarely featured live entertainment, although it sometimes did. Often instead, Seaberry played recorded music, typically soul and R&B, using a DJ or a jukebox, and patrons danced, mingled, or shot pool. He had a strict rule against playing rap music, which he claimed he detested. As was common of the rural juke joints that used to provide a main source of entertainment in the Mississippi Delta, the building was also Seaberry’s home. He spent most of his days farming for the Hiter family on whose land he lived (the Hiters gave Seaberry a lifetime lease on the property), and reliably opened up his home to revelers one night a week. On Thursday nights, for a five-dollar cover, locals mingled with tourists, writers, and students until the wee hours of the morning as long as they followed Seaberry’s rules: “No loud music, no dope smoking, no rap music.” Beer was to be purchased inside, but customers could bring in their own liquor as long as they purchased mixers from him. Po’ Monkey’s distinctive decorations—including hand-painted signs, Christmas lights, beer advertisements, and stuffed monkeys with attached penises—are considered typical accouterments of a rural juke.
When Seaberry passed away in 2016, some questioned whether it would be worth keeping the club open without him, as his presence, humor, and hospitality had been such key components of the Po’ Monkey’s experience. The building has remained empty and uncared for in the years since his death, as issues with ownership and settling Seaberry’s estate have slowed efforts to either reopen or preserve it. In late 2018 the contents from inside the juke joint—including the infamous pornographic toy monkeys—were sold as a collection at auction to farmland investor Shonda Warner, a one-time resident of Clarksdale who frequently went to Po’ Monkey’s when she lived in the Delta. “Hopefully there will be a number of renowned institutions interested in preserving this vernacular treasure,” she told the Mississippi Business Journal. She also expressed interest in working with Seaberry’s family and the Hiter family in the preservation efforts. The fact that the Seaberry family owns the building and the Hiter family owns the land it sits on has complicated efforts to preserve the establishment and resulted in the building sitting empty, becoming worn by the elements. There have been talks of moving the structure itself off the Hiter’s land and into the town of Merigold, if it could survive the journey.
The location is marked by a Mississippi Blues Trail marker and a National Register of Historic places plaque, and the hand-painted façade still draws blues tourists for a photo opportunity.
- Steve Cheseborough, Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues, Fourth Edition (2018)
- Erik Eckholm, “At Night, Farmer Trades His Tractor for the Blues,” New York Times (March 2, 2007)
- Jack Weatherly, “Po’ Monkey’s Artifacts Sold in Auction as Collection,” Mississippi Business Journal (October 5, 2018)
- Scott Barretta and Ken Murphy, Mississippi: State of Blues (2010)