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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

Songs About the Great Flood of 1927

5/18/2016 (Permalink)

Flood of 1927.

The Great Flood of 1927 of the Mississippi River not only changed the landscape of the region, the people and government regulations but their culture as well. Many musicians were inspired to express their feelings at the time of the disaster and others continue to do so through conveying those emotions which they so closely associate with those in peril at the time of the flood. Below are some of the most well-known songs about the flooding in 1927.  I have collected primarily songs from the blues genre although you will find some other styles mixed in. Some of these songs and artists have stories and information to share outside of the songs themselves and others simply leave the music to do all of the talking. I encourage you to listen to the songs by clicking on the title, the emotions behind them and add any other songs about the flooding of 1927 that are not mentioned in the comment section below.

Memphis “Minnie” McCoy and Kansas Joe McCoy – When the Levee Breaks

This is probably the most famous song that came about from the Great Flood of 1927. Many African Americans were forced to work, often at gunpoint, on the levees as the river waters rose during the flood for the Mississippi in 1927. At this point in time, many blacks worked on plantations in the Deep South and rented homes from the plantation owners. When the flood came, they had nowhere to go and were forced to move North to find better jobs. This song rose to fame when rock band Led Zeppelin covered it and released it in 1970.

Bessie Smith - Back Water Blues

                This particular song is written about the very early stages of the flood of 1927 which actually started all the way in Tennessee on Christmas Day of 1926. This blues and jazz standard is about the Cumberland River which flows through Nashville and contributed to the overall flooding in 1927.

Barbecue Bob – Mississippi Heavy Water Blues

Charley Lincoln - Mississippi Low-Levee Blues

                Barbecue Bob wrote “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues” about the flood of 1927 and years later his brother, Charley Lincoln (also known as Laughing Charlie) wrote the sequel “Mississippi Low-Levee Blues.”

Charley Patton- High Water Everywhere Pt 1 and 2 – Bob Dylan Covered

                It is believed that Patton was referring to Greenville, Mississippi in this song where African Americans were held after the flood and not allowed to leave by the landowners for fear that they wouldn’t not return to the Deep South and work the plantations. “High Water Everywhere” is debatably one of Patton’s best works and often hailed as his magnum opus.

Terence Blanchard- Ghost of 1927

                While this song is obviously inspired by the flood of 1927 it was actually written circa 2006-2007 for film director Spike Lee’s four hour award winning HBO documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. What resulted was Blanchard’s album A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina) compromised of songs about the flooding of the Mississippi region throughout the years. This album won a Grammy in 2008 for “Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album” and the song “Levees” was nominated for “Best Jazz Instrument Solo.”

Randy Newman – Louisiana 1927

Aaron Neville - Louisiana 1927

                Newman wrote this lamenting song in the perspective of an anonymous resident of the Saint Bernard and Plaquemines parishes recounting the aftermath of the flood. He describes the callous response from the government, the sheer volume of water and the scope of disaster. After Katrina hit, Aaron Neville of The Neville Brothers performed his own version of the song and revived “Louisiana 1927” in way that it not only became the theme song after Katrina but is now considered a Louisiana folk song, staple and standard.

Zachary Richard – Big River

                This song is off Richard’s 20th album Le Fou which was strongly influenced by his roots in Louisiana as is all of his music but more specifically, the BP Oil Spill. This album is hailed as his best and Richard splits his time between Scott, Louisiana and Canada where he is most well-known.

Other songs about the Flood of 1927:

Blind Lemon Jefferson – “Rising High Water Blues”

Lonnie Johnson – “Broken Levee Blues”

Eric Bibb – “Flood Water”

Jed Hopkins and Sarah A Westcott – “The Mississippi Flood Song “

Joe Hoover – “Mississippi Flood Song”

Big Bill Broonzy – “Big Bill Blues,”  “Southern Flood Blues,” and his cover of “Back Water Blues

The New Lost City Ramblers – “Mighty Mississippi” (originally written by Kelly Harrell)

Al Craver  (Vernon Dalhart) - “The Mississippi Flood”

Arthur Fields - “Terrible Mississippi Flood”

Norfolk Jubilee Quartet - “The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago”

Bartmon Montet and Joswell Dupuis - “L’Eau Haute” (High Water Waltz)

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