Mississippi Matilda

The Life and Legend of Mississippi Matilda: Iconic Blues Songstress of the Delta

Mississippi Matilda

Photo credit: Carrie Powell. All rights reserved.

Book Two in the Riverside Blues Series

Brian O’Connor with Melanie Saxton

I thought it would nice to share the front matter of Matilda Witherspoon Powell’s biography. The words encapsulate what is was to be poor, black, and female in the Delta from 1914 onward. Matilda’s story is one of transcendence over ill-health and the caste system of the Deep South, as well as a tormented childhood and exploitation.

The bottom line is that Matilda could sing, and that meant something. She sang in the church choir at age twelve and the Florida Orange Blossom Minstrels as a teen, and then at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans with Eugene for the Bluebird label as Mississippi Matilda.

But her greatest legacy is the love her children felt for her.

People have made fleeting references to Matilda in books and blogs, but did not have access to her backstory. We are fortunate that Matilda’s family, especially her daughter Carrie, shared Matilda’s journey with us.

Included are first-hand interviews with family, friends and Eugene Powell, himself. This is first in the history of the blues. Matilda’s previously untold story is now part of the Delta’s nomenclature and an inspiration to all.

Dedication in the Biography

This book is dedicated to the memory of Matilda Powell Williams, née Witherspoon, who blazed trails as a blues songstress in the midst of the Great Depression. More importantly, this beloved wife and mother navigated the injustices of her life with dignity, and was grateful for her blessings.

Born January 27, 1914 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi Died November 15, 1978 in Chicago, Illinois

Matilda’s greatest achievement was raising ten adoring children with values and honor, despite the tremendous difficulties and challenges of being a black woman in the Deep South.

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:28

Acknowledgments in the Biography

This book would not be possible without the children of Matilda and Eugene Powell, who contributed numerous accounts and interviews over the decades of their upbringing in the Mississippi Delta and Chicago, Illinois. Carrie Powell, in particular, spent countless hours recalling her mother’s journey and the specifics of Matilda’s life as a mother, wife, and songstress in the Delta.

Please contact melaniesaxton@icloud.com with questions and interview requests.