Riverside Hotel seeks funds for renovations

The crowd gathered under a cloudless royal blue sky. It was fitting that the sky was so vividly colored, as the day was entirely devoted to colors at the Riverside Hotel.

Watermelon Slim, a legendary blues performer, was seated in a hunter green two-seater held in place by same-colored cinder blocks. Sporting a flat tweed cap, he entertained the crowd that had gathered to support his cause. Performing and singing for a cause comes naturally for Watermelon Slim, who launched his career singing and composing songs to protest the Vietnam War almost 50 years ago. Then under the royal sky, on the green bench, the interpreter sang the blues.

Friday’s rally was meant to support one of Mississippi’s great treasures, the Riverside Hotel, which has suffered due to the global pandemic. The hotel has gone financially to red, a much less pleasant color than blue.

Recently, the National Trust for Historic Preservation ranked the Riverside Hotel as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2021.

And the colorful themes of the day don’t end there.

The Riverside Hotel occupies an important place in Clarksdale’s rich history precisely because of the color. For decades, many of America’s top performers haven’t been able to stay in most hotels due to the color of their skin.

As they traveled to or through Mississippi, the Riverside Hotel became an important home for some of the world’s most talented musicians and singers. Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters and countless other artists relied on the Riverside Hotel for safe accommodation. Some, like Ike Turner, have moved in for a season.

And then there was the birth of rock-n-roll.

While the city of Memphis takes credit for recording the first rock ‘n’ roll song, “Rocket 88”, the truth is that the song was written and rehearsed by Ike Turner and his colleagues at the Riverside Hotel.

Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., stayed at the hotel for the same reasons as African-American artists and visitors to the Delta. Eager to honor and learn from its history, John F. Kennedy, Jr. also stayed there without drawing public attention to his time in Clarksdale.

When the hotel was launched in 1944, Mrs. ZL Ratliff Hill operated the Riverside until her son Frank “Rat” Ratliff succeeded her. Today, Zelena Ratliff and Sonya Ratliff Gates are the custodians of the family business and a historical treasure of the Mississippi Delta.

While the hotel has resisted the forces of discrimination for decades, the pandemic and the fall of a tree on the hotel have proved even more damaging. And because of everything the Riverside Hotel has given to Clarkdale and the world, people are giving back in this time of need.

A GoFundMe site has been created to help the Riverside Hotel repair damage to trees, conform to America’s new post-Covid paradigm, and reopen to the public. The target amount is $ 50,000 and over $ 11,000 has already been raised.

The GoFundMe page can be found at: https://gofund.me/f551bb59

The hotel’s website is: RiversideClarksdale.com

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