BALDWYN • Six Shooter Studios’ Amye Gousset and Clark Richey recently joined with an eclectic group of dignitaries in Clarksdale and Greenwood to commemorate the life and death of Billie Joe McAllister.
It was, of course, the third of June, the date memorialized in Bobbie Gentry’s 1967 hit song “Ode to Billie Joe,” when Gousset and Richey along with a group of about 75 other Mississippi residents gathered to pay homage to the fictional character who ended his life when he jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.
The core group in attendance refer to themselves as “The Mississippi June Bugs,” an association of long-time friends who gather each June for a 3- or 4-day weekend to celebrate all things Mississippi. The group consists primarily of accomplished lawyers, judges and politicians, but on this annual June weekend, the members drop pretenses and enjoy their home state as a self-described “ragtag team of Mississippi misfits.”
The society was founded by U.S. District Judge Mike Mills a few years ago as an opportunity to spend time with his colleagues to celebrate Mississippi and the things that make the state truly special: its music, literature, art, and the people who gave birth to those things. The society includes Tupelo businesswoman Rubye Del Harden and her sister, Rosa Lee Harden; U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, and well-known Clarksdale businessman, lawyer and co-owner of Ground Zero Blues Club, Bill Luckett. The society spent time at Luckett’s home and his club along with the club’s other co-owner – American actor, producer and director, Morgan Freeman.
Gousset and Richey, both singers, were invited to participate in the weekend celebration as members of “The June Bug Band” – a group of musicians organized from members of the society – and closed out the weekend events with a show at Ground Zero Blues Club. Gousset opened the Saturday night show singing Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.”
“Oh, what fun we had getting to know these amazing people and experiencing the joy they are spreading,” Gousset said. “They love what makes Mississippi Mississippi, and they simply want to have a good time celebrating their home’s rich history and culture.”
The weekend festivities began at Tallahatchie Flats in Greenwood with Gousset (accompanied by Richey on guitar) singing “Wade in the Water” at a memorial service for the fictional Billie Joe McAllister. June Bug member and Tupelo Funeral Home director Steve Holland officiated over the service and the unveiling of the tombstone. Later that evening, the group gathered near the Tallahatchie River to read excerpts from Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner.
“The service for Billie Joe was fascinating. The members felt it was the right thing to do, give him a proper burial since Bobby Gentry spent time in Greenwood and obviously, he meant a great deal to her. That iconic song and all the stories that are passed along with it are definitely a huge part of the history of that area,” Gousset said.
Richey added, “We are always excited to take Six Shooter Studios, and ourselves personally, into new territory and new experiences. Memorializing the death of Bobbie Gentry’s Billie Joe McAllister in a real, tangible way and then singing Robert Johnson songs at Ground Zero – with Morgan Freeman and Roger Wicker on stage singing, too – both in the same weekend is beyond surreal. To say that it was unforgettable is certainly an understatement. The Mississippi June Bugs are wonderful, hospitable group of people. They are Mississippi through and through.”
The June Bugs have already begun making plans for their June 2022 assembly. The exact location is unknown, but certainly Mississippi “mania” is on the agenda.