One of the most famous blues recording performers of the 1940s, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, was born on the property his grandparents owned in Forest on August 24, 1905. Crudup was given the title “The Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll” after Elvis Presley recorded three of his tunes in the 1950s. Despite the popularity of his recordings, Crudup was only paid a pittance for his musical efforts and had to supplement his income by working as a bus driver and construction worker. On March 28, 1974, he passed away.
Crudup was a popular blues performer in the United States for many years before Elvis Presley, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and other rock and roll stars covered his tunes. Crudup, however, fell prey to exploitation in the same way that many other artists lacked formal education and an understanding of the music industry and copyright law. His heirs were unable to obtain his copyrights and outstanding royalties until after his passing.
Crudup, who spent his childhood singing spirituals, did not begin playing guitar until he was in his thirties. After hearing him perform on the streets of Chicago in 1941, RCA Victor’s Bluebird label offered him a recording contract. His original style and catchy songs were well-received by record purchasers, and he remained in the studio with RCA until 1954. Famous tracks by him that were covered by Elvis Presley including “That’s All Right,” “My Baby Left Me,” and “So Glad You’re Mine.” Before the blues renaissance of the 1960s, Crudup was best known in Mississippi’s juke joints, where he frequently shared the stage with blues legends like Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson, as well as regional favorites like George Lee, Odell Lay, and Clyde Lay.
Despite the city’s segregationist rules, he played to mixed crowds in Forest’s dance clubs and cafes. After dropping out of Forest in the mid-1950s, he worked as a timber stacker, a cotton picker, and a bootlegger before starting his own business, shuttling migrant workers between Florida and Virginia. Though he made some later recordings for the Fire and Delmark labels, he never stopped working to support himself. James, Jonas, and George Crudup created their own band in Florida and released an album under that name. In the 1980s, Robert Earl “Little Jr.” Crudup, the actor’s nephew, began his career in Oakland, California.
A second late-blooming Forest guitarist was James “T-Model” Ford, who likewise learned to play on his own (in his fifties). Ford, who was born on June 20, 1924, worked as a truck driver, logger, and factory worker before settling in the Delta and discovering his talent for the blues. When he released CDs on the Oxford, Mississippi-based Fat Possum label in the 1990s, he was able to start doing shows all over the country, while still regularly appearing at bars in the Greenville, South Carolina, area.
In 2002, the Mississippi State Legislature passed a resolution honoring Ruben Hughes, another former Forest resident, and radio broadcaster. Hughes, who was born on September 9, 1938, began his professional career as a blues DJ at the age of 16 for WMAG in Forest. Before establishing WGNL in Greenwood in 1987, he worked at a number of other radio stations. Hughes remembered his time spent in the early 1950s with Arthur Crudup at a chicken farm in the forest.