The Stanton Littlejohn Sessions Around 1946, McNairy County musician, Stanton Littlejohn, picked up a recording console and began making acetate disc (lacquer) recordings of his friends and family at his Eastview, Tennessee home. Recording for more than ten years, the amateur sound engineer captured the performances of dozens of old-time musicians, southern gospel quartets, and traditional country and artists, from Southwest Tennessee and North Mississippi.
Rockabilly Highway Revival, Murals, Hall of Fame & Trail of Music Legends McNairy County's rockabilly roots are incredibly rich. Legendary rock 'n' roll deejay, Dewey Phillips, who hailed from Adamsville, Tennessee introduced the world to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among other early rockabilly artists. Three members of the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame are McNairy County natives. Elvis Presley played his first road gig at Bethel Springs, Tennessee, where he just happened to meet a young guitarist named Carl Perkins. Perkins made the first recordings of his storied career with Stanton Littlejohn at Eastview, Tennessee in 1951.
In 2008 Arts in McNairy was instrumental in having Highway 45 South from Interstate 40 to the Mississippi state line dubbed, Rockabilly Highway, touching off a number of musical heritage programs loosely termed the Rockabilly Highway Revival. Two world class public art installations in downtown Selmer, Tennessee pay homage to this incredible musical legacy. The iconic Rockabilly Highway Mural I & Rockabilly Highway Mural II are by Nashville artist Brian Tull, a McNairy County native. The murals inspired an annual music and heritage festival, The Rockabilly Highway Revival Festival, which celebrates the region's rockabilly heritage the second week in June in downtown Selmer. The annual McNairy County Music Hall of Fame inductions take place on the eve of the music festival and all members of the Hall of Fame are honored on a downtown walking trail known as the Trail of Music Legends.
Broom making was a staple of farm life in McNairy County from the mid 19th until the mid 20th century. Dozens of families made brooms to supplement their income in the winter months, but very little of that heritage survives. Jack Martin is the living embodiment of the tradition, making brooms one at a time with his family's homemade broom machines. The Broomcorn Festival sponsored by Hockaday Brooms, Arts in McNairy and the McNairy County Chamber of Commerce celebrated McNairy County's broom making heritage for over twenty years until, cofounder and festival champion, Virginia "Dee" Martin's untimely passing.
McNairy County's rich broom crafting heritage is detailed in a double issue of the Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin. An informative essay by Arts in McNairy's Traditional Arts chair, Shawn Pitts, offers histories of several local broom making families.
Tennessee Music Box The Tennessee music box (box dulcimer) is a folk instrument that originated in the counties of the lower Tennessee River Valley. The box dulcimers were never commercially produced, rather, construction and playing techniques were passed from generation to generation, and neighbor to neighbor, through oral tradition. Less than 100 of these folk instruments have been discovered and documented.
In 2015 Arts in McNairy purchased the Ellis Truett Jr. Collection of Tennessee music boxes. Truett was a lifelong student of music, a dulcimer builder, player, and collector, and an outspoken advocate for West Tennessee music heritage preservation. His collection of 7 box dulcimers, along with other instruments, and music box documentation are now part of the Arts in McNairy Cultural Collection at the McNairy County Historical Museum. Other music boxes have been discovered and added to the collection since acquisition of Truett's instruments. It is one of the largest, and most significant, collections of Tennessee music boxes in the world. The instruments are on rotating display at the museum and occasionally featured in other cultural exhibits in the area.
The Jackson Area Plectral Society and Needles-n-Pins Quilters of Selmer were generous partners in preservation of these Tennessee treasures. The instruments are available for scholarly research and inspection by request. Photos and detailed descriptions of the instruments may be viewed here. The Slug Burger McNairy County is proud of its culinary heritage and some of the most mouthwatering whole hog barbecue, fried catfish with hushpuppies, and fried pies you will ever taste can be found on the tables of our local homes and restaurants. But the one food experience most associated with McNairy County (especially Selmer) is the slug burger. Several local proprietors still serve this tasty little golden-brown burger that evolved during the depression era when small town diners in North Mississippi, Northwest Alabama, and Southwest Tennessee sought an economical way to serve more customers while stretching their scarce provisions of meat. Potato flour, soy grit, and other fillers were used to get more burgers per pound, thus giving birth to the slug burger. The name is reportedly derived from the cost of the economical lunch treat which originally cost only a nickel, otherwise known in local slang as a slug. This McNairy County food tradition has been prominently featured in an oral history project by the Southern Foodways Alliance. Interviews with local slug burger cooks, and more information on this unique food tradition can be viewed here.