Written by Jim Bille
Nov 13, 2010 at 10:00 AM
If you’re from Texas you have no doubt seen a Texas Historical marker at some point during your travels around the state. Texas Historical markers are erected by the state at locations where a significant part of Texas history or event occurred. The newest marker can be found in Houston’s Third Ward on the corner of Dowling and Francis Street.


Sam Lightnin’Hopkins, Texas bluesman extraordinaire, has received his own marker on this corner in honor of his contribution to Texas history as well as his contribution to musical history.


Originally from Center, Texas, Hopkins spent most of his life in Houston playing the local clubs and juke joints as well as the street corners in and around the Third Ward. Story has it that Hopkins basically could be found playing anywhere from neighborhood front porches to city buses. Playing anywhere in Houston would eventually lead to playing everywhere across the world.


The historical marker idea was the brainchild of Houston Blues Society member Eric Davis who started his quest for Hopkins recognition by simply visiting the artists’ grave site. The small unattended marker in Houston’s Forest Park Lawndale cemetery seemed hardly enough of a monument for one of the most influential bluesmen ever so Davis decided to do something about it. After a year of writing, petitioning and fundraising Davis succeeded in acquiring the marker and decided the best place for it was in Hopkin’s Third Ward neighborhood.


The crowded ceremony was marked with official proclamations and presentations to two of Hopkins’s grand daughters from the Mayor’s office, the county, and from Texas Governor Rick Perry all proclaiming November 13 as Lightnin’ Hopkins day state wide.


After the presentations and a few speakers the marker itself was unveiled by local blues greats that included Hopkins cousin Milton Hopkins, Texas Johnny Brown, and Robert ‘Skinman’ Murphy.


The musical line up featured some of the best of the Houston blues scene. Diunna Greenleaf and Blue Mercy opened the show with some of the best gut bottom blues you ever heard. Greenleaf is host of the gospel blues brunch at the House of Blues most every Sunday. You owe it to yourself to check this weekly tradition out at HOB. Diunna will light you up with her over the top performance and unbelievable band.


Milton Hopkins has been a blues fixture around Houston for five decades. Like his cousin he too has traveled the world performing with artists like Marvin Gaye, Lou Rawls, Sam Cooke, and Jackie Wilson. Hopkins also played with Grady Gaines in Little Richard’s early band, The Tempo Twisters’in the early 1950’s as well as rhythm guitarist for B.B.King for eight years at one point in his long career.


Now settled back home in Houston, Hopkins and his band can be seen throughout the city most week ends. Check your local club listings and check him out. Like his cousin Lightnin’, Milton too is a Texas treasure.


Texas Johnny Brown has been playing the blues for about as long as Milt Hopkins. He began his professional musical career in Houston in the1940’s with Amos Milburn’s “Aladdin Chickenshackers”.

While working as a studio musician for Houston’s Duke/Peacock Records, Brown recorded a number of his own compositions, including Suspense and, Snakehips. Two Steps from the Blues, considered to be a blues standard by most, was also penned by Brown and was made famous by Bobby Blue Bland and turned out to be one Bland’s biggest hits. Like Hopkins, Texas Johnny Brown can be seen around Houston at many of the local clubs and is a must see for any blues fan.


The combined performance of these three artists served to top off an exceptional day for Texas Blues and Texas History.