Charlie Burse Memorial
In a career spanning 40 years, Charlie Burse moved from Sheffield, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi, to Memphis; from banjo to guitar to mandolin; from jug band to fingerstyle blues to jazzy pop; and from busking on Beale Street to parties for Boss Crump to recording sessions at Sun Studios.
His best-known work was with the Memphis Jug Band, where he was the second longest serving member after its founder, Will Shade. He made significant contributions to some of the Memphis Jug Band's best-known songs, from his guitar riffs on "Cocaine Habit" and "You May Leave" to his lead vocals on "Bottle It Up and Go" and "Stealin' Stealin'" -- a song that has been covered by Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, the Grateful Dead, and countless modern jug, bluegrass and old-time bands.
To Shade's quiet wit and behind the scenes organizing, Burse was the perfect complement: boisterous and energetic, with a punchy resonator tenor guitar, a voice that could cut through a busy market or hotel lobby, and hip gyrations that would influence Elvis. He spoiled more than one recording by stomping too hard on the studio floor, and he earned a reputation as a smart mouth at a time when black men were expected to be deferential. Yet he also had a serious side, holding a day job as a carpenter and painter, and providing for his wife and three children.
Burse assembled a combo with saxophone, bass, and drums for a lengthy recording session in 1939, and added a very rock-and-roll sounding piano when invited to record for Sam Phillips's fledgling record label in 1950. But by that time, he was at least twice the age of a typical recording star, and Phillips decided to focus on younger talent. Burse kept on doing his thing, recording with Will Shade for field researchers like Sam Charters and Alan Lomax, until his death in 1965.
In February 2017, after contributing to our campaign to mark the grave of Bo Carter, a former teacher at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music named Arlo Leach asked the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund if we knew where to find the grave of Charlie Burse. MZMF consultant Mark Blasinghame found the grave location and we began our research into the records of the burial ground. The preceding Burse biography was written by Arlo Leach.
We learned that his remains were interred at Rose Hill Cemetery in Memphis, and project investigator Bill Pichette located the Burse family plot, which contains the grave of Emma Burse, the mother of Charlie. We are in contact with the granddaughter of Charlie Burse, and we are now soliciting funds to erect a memorial near his mother's grave for Charlie Burse. Your donation will help install a memorial at the cemetery and organize a dedication ceremony, to give Burse some long overdue recognition as a singular talent and a key piece of American music history.
Click HERE to visit our main page and the original site of the Burse campaign