Big 9 Roots Festival to feature history, take place of Bessie Smith Strut

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – MLK Blvd. was once 9th Street.

That area of Chattanooga was known as the Big 9.

“Performers, the street corner out here is where Bessie Smith actually performed. There were clubs here on what was 9th street, the Big 9. So this was the area that most of the African-Americans were performing and through the clubs and a lot of people came out of the Big 9 and went on to greater things,” Bessie Smith Cultural Center President Paula Wilkes said.

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center is partnering with the Mary Walker Historical and Educational Foundation to bring back music from 9th Street in the Chattanooga Big 9 Roots Festival.

It’s an event that will take the place of the long-running Bessie Smith Strut.

“Riverbend, Friends of the Festival always played an active role in the strut, providing musicians, staging assistance with that. So it’s always been a part of that, but when Riverbend started talking about changes we were involved in those talks with them and decided we’d been looking at doing maybe something a little different,” Wilkes said.

The Big 9 Roots Festival will be different from the strut.

The strut was always a Monday evening event in the summer.

The Big 9 Roots Festival will be on October 5th from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

It will be a free event with a parade, kids activities during the day, vendors, gospel and blues music and historical events.

“We’ll have the National Parks Service with reenactors, also the Medal of Honor Museum. We’re gonna have a lot of things about how the Big 9 used to be so that people can learn some history while they’re here, family-friendly up until 4 p.m. there will be no alcohol on the streets after that it will turn in to more of the strut atmosphere with beer and the musicians.”

Bessie Smith Cultural Center President Paula Wilkes said she sees the Big 9 Roots Festival becoming an annual event and a full cultural festival.

The festival will be on MLK and the road closures will be the same as the strut.

Big announcements are expected to come later.

Categories: Chattanooga, Featured, Local News

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