Many may know about the Rhythm Night Club fire in 1940 that claimed the lives of some 200+ (accounts vary widely of the number who died and number present) African Americans gathered for a show by the Walter Barnes Orchestra (and his Royal Creolians) in Natchez, Mississippi. Crowds were estimated as high as 700 people in attendance, and if that is accurate, it is astonishing that more did not die in the conflagration under the horrific circumstances. The unpretencious building pictured below is the Rhythm Night Club (On Site) Memorial Museum.
Betty and Monroe Sago, who owned the property that formerly housed the Rhythm Club, created the museum in 2010 to ensure this aspect of Natchez history was not forgotten. The Mississippi blues Trail erected a monument commemorating Howlin’ Wolf’s The Natchez Burning, and John Lee Hooker recorded a version entitled Natchez Fire (Burning) where he ascribed the fire as occurring in 1937.
Barnes and nine of the band members also perished. Barnes, known as Chicago’s “Swing King” was on a Southeastern tour. Barnes was a Vicksburg native and scheduled to play there the following night, and then again in New Albany before heading back north.