THE LOWER RIVER 119 tradition. These minstrel performers brought some elements of genuine African American culture such as spirituals, ragtime, and the cakewalk into the minstrel repertoire. Spirituals were a particular specialty of the African American minstrel troupes. One of the best known minstrel shows in America was the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, headquartered after 1918 in Port Gibson. Legendary blues singers such as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Rufus Thomas were among the performers who got their start with the troupe. Of all the distinguished alumni of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, the one of most consequence to the course of music in the Lower River counties was Louis Jordan. Jordan was one of the most popular of the post- World War II bandleaders and arguably the father of rhythm and blues. His major hits such as “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t Ma’ Baby,” “Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie,” “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” and “Blue Light Boogie” would have a strong influence on rock and roll. Minstrel stars like Lester Young, Willie Dixon, Theodore “Hound Dog” Taylor, Milt Hinton, and Hank Jones, Jordan went north to the big cities and made their marks on American music. STEAMBOATS AND PADDLEWHEELERS While rivers were always a main avenue of travel for the developing American nation, currents and flooding often impacted the speed at which riverboats were able to transport loads. In 1769, James Watt developed an early version of the steam engine that was later used by John Fitch in successfully trialing steamboats on the Delaware River in the late 1780s. Robert Fulton of New York was the first to develop a commercially viable steamboat used on the Mississippi River. PHOTO COURTESY OF MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF ARCHIVES AND HISTORY Post-War Cotton Production Cotton remained as the major economic engine well into the twentieth century. The large scale agricultural units needed to make cotton profitable ran on credit. Sharecroppers and tenant farmers who provided most of the labor on most of the farms and plantations took out loans on their crops to be paid back at harvest in exchange for whatever supplies they needed during the rest of the year. The need for a profitable cash crop to stay ahead of debt meant that they usually, and often exclusively, grew cotton. A bad harvest or low cotton prices could be disastrous. Once harvested, the cotton had to be brought to market. Vicksburg was the major cotton shipping center in the region, with much of the cotton it shipped coming from the Delta. After 1870, most Delta cotton was diverted away from Vicksburg to New Orleans and St. Louis merchants because of discriminatory rail and steamboat freight rates. Nonetheless, Vicksburg steamboats did manage to retain dominance of the Yazoo River cotton trade thanks to Shum Parisot and his Yazoo River Packet Company, later renamed