By Paige Nash
Minden may be getting a designated site along the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail honoring the rhythm and blues singer and songwriter Percy Mayfield, according to Webster Parish Convention and Visitors Commission Executive Director Serena Gray.
Gray has been working to establish a site in our area for the Civil Rights Trail, although this memorial for Percy Mayfield may not fit the criteria, Gray said it may be a more appropriate fit for the African American Heritage Trail or even the Music Trail that is currently under construction by the Louisiana Office of Tourism.
“I am hoping to utilize one of their programs to highlight Percy Mayfield along with other musicians in our area,” said Gray.
Mayfield was born in Minden on Aug. 12, 1920. During his youth he was passionate about poetry which led to him becoming a singer/songwriter. He eventually moved to Houston, Texas., where he began performing and later moved to Los Angeles in 1942.
“His hit in the late 50s was a love ballad that was also a message about discrimination and the importance of bringing love, peace and kindness, so I thought we could do something in his memory or honor for that,” said Gray.
The 1950s hit, “Please send me someone to love,” was a number one R&B single that quickly became widely influential and was later recorded and re- recorded by many artists. Another widely popular song Mayfield wrote in response to a breakup he was going through at the time, “Hit the Road Jack,” recorded by Ray Charles, became one of his biggest hits. After grabbing the attention of Charles, he made the decision to sign Mayfield onto his record label, Tangerine Records, mainly as a songwriter.
Unfortunately, in 1952, Mayfield was involved in a car crash while traveling back home to Los Angeles from a performance in Vegas. Although he was pronounced dead at the scene, he eventually recovered over a long two-year hiatus. He did suffer very serious disfigurement of his face, which in turn ended his performing career, but did not stop him from writing songs.
Mayfield died at his home in Los Angeles on Aug. 11, 1984, two days before his 64th birthday. Little Richard performed at his funeral.
First launched in 2008, Lt. Gov Billy Nungesser announced the relaunched and revitalization of the African American Heritage Trail of Louisiana in Sept. 2022. “As we went through the process of creating the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail, we discovered so many stories not tied directly to the civil rights movement, stories that need to be told for generations to come,” said Nungesser. “Just in my travels of Louisiana and talking to many people, I learned of several stories illustrating the contributions African Americans made in shaping the history, culture, and heritage of Louisiana. This revitalization will promote three centuries of history since the people of African descent arrived in Louisiana.”
To date the trail includes 40 sites across the state that includes museums, plantations, churches, universities and more
To access all the already established sites, visit https://www.explorelouisiana.com/african-american-heritage-trail.