November 11, 2010 at 1:00 am

Groups raise funds to mark graves

The Detroit Blues Society raised money for an informational memorial stone for blues legend Son House at Mount Hazel Cemetery. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)

A life in music doesn't always pay — that's clear when you see how many singers and musicians rest in unmarked graves.

In many cases, fans have stepped forward to raise money for memorials.

Jackie Wilson fans, led by Atlanta disc jockey Jack "the Rapper" Gibson, raised the funds to erect an impressive monument at Wilson's grave at Westlawn Cemetery in Wayne in 1987. Members of the Soulful Detroit online music forum, led by its founder, David Meikle of Scotland, installed a headstone and bench at Detroit singer Darrell Banks' gravesite in 2004. Local band the Party Stompers plan a fundraiser for a grave marker for Nathaniel Mayer soon, according to the band's drummer, S.R. Boland. Mayer, whose song "Village of Love" hit nationally in 1962, died in 2008.

Blues fans are more organized. Since the '90s, the Detroit Blues Society has been holding benefits to raise money for gravestones. It started in 1997 when funds were raised for an elaborate, informational memorial stone for blues legend Son House at Mount Hazel Cemetery.

Headstones for the Butler Twins (Clarence and Curtis) were bought and placed in 2007 at Sunset Cemetery in Ypsilanti Township. A memorial for Calvin Frazier was placed at United Memorial Gardens in Plymouth Township in late 2009.

This year, the blues society didn't quite meet its financial goal to erect headstones for Bo Collins and "Uncle" Jessie White (both are at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Detroit), but Lee Herberger, a society board member, says they ordered the stones and will have them installed before year's end.

"We took money out of the general fund to do it; we wanted to be able to bless these graves before the snow flies," Herberger said.

When they do installments, the Rev. Robert Jones (a blues musician himself), dedicates the gravestones and music is played. Next year, the blues society plans to raise money for a marker for Boogie Woogie Red.

For information on how to donate money for the Detroit Blues Society's headstone project, go to