June 30, 2017

Tiny Robinson One

Queen "Tiny" Robinson, Leadbelly's niece. 
(May 27, 1923-March 12, 2017) 
Interview Dec.7th, 2004.
Tiny in 2007.
Tiny Robinson was the daughter of Mary Promise, whose twin sister, Martha, was Mrs. Huddie Ledbetter. Tiny graduated from High School in Shreveport in 1941; she then moved to New York City and lived in the apartment below Huddie and Martha. By the time Huddie died in December, 1949, Tiny had become his agent and business manager. After his death she continued to promote his music and was responsible for keeping his achievements in the public view.  Interview was at her house in Murfreesboro, TN.
Q is either Monty or Marsha Brown. Tiny is TR.

Q:   Whereabouts in Shreveport were you raised?

TR: You know Allen Avenue? (Yes) You know Ashton Street? (No)

Q: How about when you were smaller. Were you into music a lot?

TR: No, but I was around it every day and night. I wasn’t a singer or a musician or anything.

Q: Do you remember children’s games when you were real little. Did you ever play children’s games?

TR: I remember Leadbelly's children’s albums. Like “Skip to M’Lou.” That’s one famous one, then “Little Sally Walker.” Play that game, you’d walk around and they’d try to catch you. And there’d be a partner. We’d play games like that. We didn’t have no television to look at, so we did those kind of songs.

Q: What would you do for “Skip to M’Lou?”

TR: We’d skip around, skip around each other until you’d find an opening to the circle. There’d always be a partner in there. Was a nice little skip and hop dance.

Q: So, Allen Avenue and Ashton Street. . .

TR: Yes. Ashton Street runs across Pierre Avenue and Norman. 

Q:  When you were raised there how many brothers and sisters were raised with you?

TR:  There was four of us. Me and my sister, the one nearest to me, a year and a month older. Then we had another sister she was about five years older, then we had a brother who she was about a year, two years older than. And when her husband died, she remarried, and that was children that he had before and he had a big farm out by the Republican (?) Church.

Q:  So they moved out there?

TR: We was in High School then.

Q:  Which High School?

TR: CCHigh. (She leans forward, underlining) Central Colored High School. The only one in Louisiana! Yes, I graduated from there. It says “Central Colored” High School, ‘cause there was a Central High School out in Hollywood, but it was all white. They put “colored” in there so that we’d know which one we’re supposed to go to. 

Q: Is the building still there?
Central. (Now, Elementary.)

TR: On Weinstock, coming down from Norman. We have a class reunion every two years, but we don’t have it there. We have it in different cities. We have a historical event that I’m on that we collect things and bring to the group that hasn’t been able to find anything about Central, anything at the high school. It lasts a week and we do it every two years. And everyone’s there except the one’s who’s been dead and died so we never know. . . we have a big program and we get a lot of people to speak. . . now we had in Shreveport, I think four years ago, we had Donald Aytch speak, you know Donald Aytch?

Q:  Yes. He’s died, too, hasn’t he? 
(Born April 17, 1930, died. July 24, 2004, just about four months prior to this interview.)

TR: Donald Aytch? (Yes) I figured Donald Aytch was dead, coz I have called there and got no answer.

Q:  (Monty) used to work with him. At the radio station. (KDAQ, Public Radio. Donald DJ’d a blues music program. Monty did  “Louisiana Folk Music.”)

TR: He did quite a lot of things there before he died. He was the one that put that thing together. On the Mooringsport Road going down from Mooringsport. That group he was in, Congressman? 

Q: He was a Caddo Parish Police Commissioner (which is like a being on a County Council in other states.) 

TR: well, they put those plaques up there on Mooringsport Road, as a marker, and then (there was) a big thing down in Natchitoches at the . . .

Q:  Folk Festival? Natchitoches Folk Festival at the college? (Northwestern State U.)

TR:  Northwestern, that’s it. We had a thing down there and Donald came to that, too.

Q: And Sean (Killeen) was there. too

TR: Yes, Sean was there and John

Q:  John (Andrew) Prime? 

TR: No, John Reynolds. He’s a card. Let me see what else? When I bought the new stone to go on Leadbelly’s grave, we had Donald Aytch come and speak. I don’t know if you’ve been out there: have you seen it? the tall headstone?

Q:  Yes, I was out there a month ago.

TR: Then we have that long plaque on top of the grave that’s carved like a guitar, and up here on the headboard has a lot of his awards and just lately my brother called me and told me somebody had stole the gate from around it.

Q:  Now your brother takes care of it?

TR: Yes, I have a brother who takes care of it. He never was a talker, nuh-uhn. But he wouldn’t mind if you met him out there at the grave. Coz a lot of people go there every day from all over the world. We see articles in the paper that . . . I’d like to see some articles that John (Andrew Prime) puts in there (The Times of Shreveport).

Q: He did one about Robert Plant one time, that was about fifteen years ago, I don’t know if Robert Plant’s been there recently. (Tiny is going to try to get in touch with John about his Leadbelly writings.) Now this Central Colored HS, which I’ve never heard of before, was it the only . . . 

TR: . . .only high school for blacks, as far as I can remember, from Mooringsport to Texas and down to Shreveport. People from Bossier went there and over in Ruston, Louisiana, that whole group of people down there, where those creole people live (Cane River), they all came to that school, it was the only high school. People from Texas went there. 

Q:  So, it included a whole big area, not just Shreveport.

TR: A lot of parents couldn’t afford to bring them there, and stay, now some of those people had family live there and they lived with the family. But if they had no family they’d have to pay to live and they couldn’t afford it. They just could not afford it and go to school, too.  

Q:  This was just a regular High School, except for colored people?

TR: You graduate from High School in them days, it was just like college. You went to grade school until 9th grade and then you went to High School for three, four years, just like college. You came out of high school in those days you could get a job anywhere, not like it is now, four years of college and there ain’t nothing out there.

Q:  I guess the only actual college (for blacks) was in Baton Rouge, was it Southern?

TR:  Southern.

Q:  What were the parties the children would have at the end of their school year? These big parties where the girls would wear white dresses. At the end of the year. The school closings!

TR: Now when we graduated from Central High School, we had our Commencement at the Municipal building (Auditorium.) I was so glad to go back in there last year when we went back in there for something Ron Hardy had. It was the first time I’d been in this building since, we’d go there and we’d have our gowns on, that was a big thing — to graduate from high school. We went there, and we’d have our gowns and we got our certificates and everything, and we’d have a beautiful program, somebody’d speak to us 

Q: We’ve been told that Huddie use to play at school closings out in the country.

TR: He did.

Q:  I mean, they would be the small schools.

TR: Small schools from first grade to, like, seventh.

Q:  And he would come and sing for them. How big were the classes (at CCHS)?

TR: My class had 141 people.

Q:  When did you go there?

TR: I went there in the late ’30’s and early ’40’s. ’41 when I graduated.

Q:  And how much longer did it go on?

TR: It’s still going on. They moved it down, they built Booker T. Washington, you know where BTW is? Well, they all go there.

Q:  Do you remember some of your teachers?

TR: I remember practically all of them. Two of them just died, believe it or not, since we went. . . When we first started having the classmate re-unions, there was two teachers still alive. And they started teaching in that school in 1917, something like that. And the two of them used to come to all the re-unions, and one of them just died, I would say about maybe 20 years ago. Quite a few of them live up a long time.

Q:  What about music. They have music at the school?

TR: Oh yes. They taught music. Her (the teacher’s) name was Ethel (?) Doherty. She taught music, piano, and she had a choir going. She was very good. Big Major, he had all the bands that used to come in. Like Duke Ellington and Count Basie. All those big band people used to come in to play.

Q:  Do you remember seeing anybody like that when you were growing up ?

TR: I couldn’t go to a place where they was playing at. Coz I wasn’t old enough. They was playing at a place called Palace Park and your mother and father would not let you go there until you was 30 years old, practically (laughing). No, it wasn’t 30 but they wouldn’t let you go to nothing like that.

Q: It was like a big dance hall?

TR: It was a big dance hall. That’s what it was, a tremendous dance hall, they used to have the best bands there. Like, Duke Ellington, Jay McShann, Louis Armstrong, all those guys was there. Those who was there were people who were drinking and dancing and we weren’t allowed to go there. We’d sometimes sneak around and stand outside and hear the music . . . that’s when . . . you know about Fannin Street, don’t you? 

Q:  Sort of heard rumors.

TR: Fannin Street was a red light district. It was a lot of prostitutes lived there, the whole street, Fannin Street. They just about has torn down the majority of the houses there, and they’re naming it Ledbetter Heights. Coz Leadbelly remembered when his father would take things to Shreveport to sell, like fruit, vegetables, he would be in a wagon with him and when they come in through that street, his father’d make him lay down in the wagon coz he didn’t want him to see the women’d be sitting in the window with negligees on and that’s why Huddie said when he was grown he’s going on Fannin Street, and the first place he went when he got grown was on Fannin Street. And then he made a song about Fannin Street. Very popular song.

Q:  Well, it must have been, was it like also bars and music?

TR: No bars there. Maybe a bar on the corner. But it was those old shotgun houses, all the way from Ford Street up to, O God, to Allen. Little houses in there.

Q:  So, if you got caught on Fannin Street, pretty much people knew what you were there for.

TR: You on Fannin Street, you knew what you were there for. And the thing about it, it was all white people. Living there. Until later on in years, I think about ’30, middle ’30’s, some blacks started moving in. And then when the blacks started moving in, the whites started moving out. 

Q:  So when it was Fannin Street the Red Light District it was white people . . .?

TR: Yes, ma’am, that’s for sure. And they was begging for anybody who had pants on (laughs)

Q:  So if you were black or white you could go to Fannin Street?

TR: Sure you could. (As long as you had some money).

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     My area of expertise is: some knowledge of the region Leadbelly inhabited in his younger days, along with some people that Marsha and I...