Blues Trail marker to honor local musicians Brawley, Brewer, Smith

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Nearly three years after his death, Brookhaven native musician Virgil “Big Juv” Brawley will be remembered with a Mississippi Blues Trail marker to be planted in Railroad Park.

The marker will be unveiled Saturday, May 29, at 5 p.m., across from The Inn on Whitworth, the former location of The Jungle teen center, where Brawley regularly played.

A concert will follow, headed by Brawley’s old band The Juvenators, featuring his son Travis Brawley and Chris Derrick. The concert kicks off the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Summer Concert Series.

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The Brookhaven Board of Aldermen unanimously approved a request in May 2019 from Brookhaven musician Tyler Bridge to allow the marker to be placed near the memorial for POW Danny Entrican.

“This guy was very big in the blues community and a very big part of continuing the Mississippi Blues history that we have,” Bridge said. “Having a blues marker is a pretty big deal. You have people from all over the world that will come to see a blues marker.”

More than 100 historical markers have been placed throughout the state for the Blues Trail, to honor significant faces and places in the story of America’s music.

Brawley died at the age of 69 on June 22, 2018. His family is covering the cost of the $11,000 marker, Bridge said.

Two other blues musicians will be listed on the marker along with Brawley — Brookhaven native Blind Jim Brewer and Union Church native Moses “Whispering” Smith. Brewer was born in Brookhaven in 1920 and lived in Chicago from 1940 until his death in 1988. He played guitar and sang gospel and blues and was rarely recorded. Smith was born in 1932 in Union Church and died in Baton Rouge in 1984. He was known as a singer and harmonica player, who was inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame.

Mississippi Rep. Becky Currie, of Brookhaven, was made aware of the Brawley family’s push to get a marker when Bridge approached her about the effort.

“I personally did not know him, but Tyler got me involved,” Currie said.  “I had to push for a few years to get this. It wasn’t easy, but we got it!”

Brawley began playing guitar in Brookhaven garage bands as a teenager in the 1960s, then went on to play Brookstock in his hometown every summer with friends and former classmates.

After serving as an Army sergeant and sniper in Vietnam — earning numerous medals including two Bronze Stars and an Army Accommodation Medal with Valor — he returned to Mississippi and earned a degree at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and a bachelor’s in radio, television and film from the University of Southern Mississippi.

In the 1970s he was a sound engineer with touring bands throughout the South. In 1980, he moved to Carmeen, Texas, where he owned a small ranch and trained horses. He returned to Mississippi in 1996, where he became well known as an outstanding blues guitarist, soloist and lyricist. His band, the Juvenators, received outstanding reviews for their hard-driving Texas, Chicago, West Coast and Delta blues sound.

In 2000, he and his wife, Anne, moved to Mt. View, Arkansas, where he played at the Ozark Folk Center with his acoustic band, Flat Broke, and performed Hill Country blues throughout the Ozarks with the Syllamo Trio. He recorded three albums with the Juvenators, one solo record, two compilation albums, and one album with the Syllamo Trio.

Brawley was one of the driving forces behind the annual Brookstock Festival. The festival returns to Brookhaven July 24.

“When I’m 80 years old, some BBC documentary group will call me because I once played with Virgil Brawley,” Bridge predicted. “It’s pretty cool that we’re getting to put this marker up.”