Gerald and Beth Jacks with
Rufus McKay of the Red Tops
by Jim Harrison
In the early 1950’s a group of black musicians from Vicksburg, Mississippi, formed a band known as the Red Tops (they wore bright red coats). Their names were: Walter Osborne, Curtis Dunning, Rufus McKay, Anderson Hardwick, Jesse Hayes, Louis Spencer, Jr., Joseph W. Custard, Napoleon Flemings, Willard Tyler and Jimmy Bosley.
During the next ten to fifteen years (they actually lasted until 1974) the Red Tops played at hundreds of dances for thousands of young people throughout Mississippi and the surrounding states, but most often they played in the Mississippi Delta.
By 1953 they were in full swing, and to go to a Red Top dance was the ultimate social act for any young person. The Red Top dances were held at colleges, country clubs, and in high school gymnasiums all over the Mississippi Delta. The dances were always packed and often lasted into the wee hours of the morning.
My friends and I would drive for hours to get to the scene of a Red Top dance. Some of the most obscure towns and villages were often the sites of these joyful events. I remember some that took place in small hamlets like Midnight and Silver City, Mississippi. In Vicksburg, the Red Tops would sometimes play at the BB Club on Clay Street.
The Red Tops were a very talented group. Their chief singer was Rufus McKay. When he sang Danny Boy, no eye was dry by the time he finished that beautiful ballad---and he could almost crack the glass chandeliers with his high tenor pitch.
Back in the ‘50s and early ‘60’s, dancing with as many partners as was possible was in vogue, so there were many nights I’d dance with dozens of young ladies at Red Top dances, most of whom I had not previously met---and most I’d likely not ever see again . . . except maybe at the next Red Top dance.
Here's a picture of Rufus McKay in "final concert," February, 2005, with Joe Gary's comments: CLICK HERE
BIO: James K. Harrison is a retired NASA engineer who lives in Huntsville, Alabama, with his school-teacher wife (Nancy) and step-daughter, Heather. He received a B. S. degree in engineering from Mississippi State in 1958 and an M. S. degree in engineering from the University of Alabama in 1964. He is a history buff and a writer of his own unpublished family history. He was born in Greenville, Mississippi, on June 2, 1935. After his father died in 1938 he and his two-year-old brother (Tomberry--short for Thomas Castleberry) went to live with their Castleberry grandparents in Moorhead, Mississippi (where the Southern crosses the Dog). There they lived for the next eight years until 1946 when they rejoined their stepfather, mother, and new stepbrother in Vicksburg, Mississippi. From 1946 to 1953 James and Tomberry (although living in Vicksburg) returned each year to Moorhead to spend the summer with their Castleberry grandparents. Those carefree summer days in the Mississippi Delta were filled with fun and frolic. From them James received many memories that he will forever cherish.
Write Jim Harrison at jkharrison2.
How ‘bout more articles about the Red Tops and the music of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s?
Ahhh, Rufus, How We Loved You! by Thomas Givens
Coming of Age With WLAC by Beth Boswell Jacks
Elvis Lives by Lonnye Sue Pearson
Blues Music Articles and Links
And read more of Jim's memoirs here at USADS!
Little Harlem Club
Moorhead Picture Show
Saturday Night in Moorhead, Mississippi
Staying Cool in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940's
Back to USADEEPSOUTH homepage