Dr. Mary Frances Dear-Moton moved back to Clarksdale from Jackson in 2007.
The very next year, in 2008, she began a tradition of organizing an annual celebration for her cousin, the late Herman “Little Junior” Parker on his birthday March 27. Parker was famous blues songwriter and artist who played the harmonica and spent the first 12 years of his life growing up in Bobo.
Parker was born March 27, 1932 in Bobo, died at the early age of 39 on Nov. 18, 1971 in Blue Island, Ill., and he would have been 87 on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.
In honor of Parker’s 87th birthday, Dear-Moton and close to 50 family members started with a tour of the Delta Blues Museum. Close to 30 other members of the community took the tour.
After Dear-Moton arrived back in Clarksdale nearly 12 years ago, she noticed nothing was on display about Parker at the museum. Parker’s brother, Willie Joe, and Dear-Moton donated collectables and memorabilia to the Delta Blues Museum. Museum director Shelley Ritter has assisted Dear-Moton with Parker’s birthday activities every year.
The family ate lunch at Our Grandma’s House of Pancakes in downtown Clarksdale, which Dear-Moton’s nephew, Archie Buford, owns for Parker’s birthday this year. Everyone also took a tour of Bobo where Parker’s “Home House” still stands, went to Parker’s trail marker at the Bobo fire station, and concluded at the Mount Moriah Burial Cemetery in Bobo where the majority of Parker’s family was buried.
“Since Clarksdale and Coahoma County are known for the blues,” Dear-Moton said. Since we have a person that’s there, we want to make sure we keep our family member’s name highlighted.”
Parker’s grandfather, Lonnie Parker Sr., whom they all called “Papa,” bought him his first harmonica and encouraged him to sing every morning at his “Home House.” Dear-Moton’s mother, Civil Rights activist the late Rachel Parker Dear, and Parker’s father, the late Oscar Parker, were brother and sister and lived in the “Home House” together.
“We’re just doing something for our family and for the community to keep his name and legacy alive,” said Dear-Moton’s daughter and Parker’s cousin, Amanda Dear-Jones. “Papa, who was very influential in Little Junior’s life with making him sing and buying him the harmonica – him and five other families purchased this land to build this church. That’s why all of our family is here.”
Dear-Jones said Parker had a “velvet smooth silky voice.”
“He’s an American music legend and he’s our blood,” she said. “We’ve got legendary things going through our blood.”
The cemetery is part of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Bobo.
Parker’s birthday celebration is a little bit different each year.
Dear-Moton recalled one time when family members came from Little Rock, Ark.
“That blues museum was packed with everybody on the stage,” she said.
This past birthday was the first time all family members had T-Shirts for the celebration.
Dear-Moton said Parker’s birthday celebrations in the next few years may be bigger than ever.
“Maybe we’ll have something in town to make sure all the community comes,” she said, adding it may be later in the day when more people are off of work.
Dear-Moton said something special may be planned for Parker’s 90th birthday in 2022.