Robert Johnson's Crossroads

Highway 8 and Highway 1, Rosedale, Mississippi 38614 USA

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“Where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil”

Although heavily disputed, these crossroads are said to be the very same where blues legend Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in order to learn guitar. While a large marker at Clarksdale, Mississippi's intersection of highways 61 and 49 proclaim to be Johnson's crossroads, many believe that to a tourism ploy.

According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, Robert Johnson was branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician. He was "instructed" to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar and tuned it. The "Devil" played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument. This was in effect, a deal with the Devil mirroring the legend of Faust. In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous.

This legend was developed over time, and has been chronicled by Gayle Dean Wardlow, Edward Komara and Elijah Wald, who sees the legend as largely dating from Johnson's rediscovery by white fans more than two decades after his death. Son House once told the story to Pete Welding as an explanation of Johnson's astonishingly rapid mastery of the guitar. Welding reported it as a serious belief in a widely read article in Down Beat in 1966. Other interviewers failed to elicit any confirmation from House and there were fully two years between House's observation of Johnson as first a novice and then a master.

Further details were absorbed from the imaginative retellings by Greil Marcus and Robert Palmer. Most significantly, the detail was added that Johnson received his gift from a large black man at a crossroads. There is dispute as to how and when the crossroads detail was attached to the Robert Johnson story. All the published evidence, including a full chapter on the subject in the biography Crossroads by Tom Graves, suggests an origin in the story of Blues musician Tommy Johnson. This story was collected from his musical associate Ishman Bracey and his elder brother Ledell in the 1960s. One version of Ledell Johnson's account was published in David Evans's 1971 biography of Tommy, and was repeated in print in 1982 alongside Son House's story in the widely read Searching for Robert Johnson.

Some scholars have argued that the devil in these songs may not refer only to the Christian story of Satan, but also to the African trickster god Legba, himself associated with crossroads. Folklorist Harry M. Hyatt wrote that, during his research in the South from 1935–1939, when African-Americans born in the 19th or early-20th century said they or anyone else had "sold their soul to the devil at the crossroads," they had a different meaning in mind. Hyatt claimed there was evidence indicating African religious retentions surrounding Legba and the making of a "deal" (not selling the soul in the same sense as in the Faustian tradition cited by Graves) with this so-called "devil" at the crossroads.

Many say that even to this day, if you visit the right crossroads at midnight, you'll meet a man in black who'll offer you a deal so good it's worth your mortal soul.

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Reviewed by
erin.schumacher.16

  • 1 Review
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December 28, 2013

Was in the show Supernatural! lol

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Reviewed by
FromPtoShiningH

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December 28, 2013

Featured in O' Brother Where Art Thou!

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