The Riverside Hotel is as close to a home as the wayward spirit of the Delta Blues could ever have.
The original structure served as the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital. On September 26, 1937, legendary blues singer Bessie Smith was taken to the hospital after a car accident ouside Clarksdale; the room where she passed on now serves as a shrine to her spirit and the blues, which are one in the same.
In 1943, Mrs. Z.L. Ratliff transformed the hospital into a hotel, extending the building to include 20 guest rooms over two floors. The Riverside Hotel opened for business in 1944, and has remained in the hands of the Ratliff family since 1957.
According to caretaker Zelena "Zee" Ratliff, "My grandmother had been operating since 1944. She died in the late '90s. That's when my father [Clarksdale legend Frank "Rat" Ratliff] took over the Riverside. He was only four when he walked in the door, so he remembered all the great sounds that came from each room. He is the reason for the rennovations done on each room."
As one of the only African American hotels in Jim Crow Mississippi, the Riverside played host to a Who's Who of blues and R&B legends including Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Sam Cooke. Others, including Ike Turner, Sunny Boy Williamson II, and Robert Nighthawk, liked the place so much they moved in.
Owner Joyce L. Ratliff and her daughter, Zee, the living embodiment of Southern hospitality, know the history of the place by heart because they were a part of it.