Earnestine and Hazel’s
531 South Main Street
On Christmas Day 2006 Karen Brownlee, bartender and manager of Earnestine and Hazel’s in Memphis, and a coworker were discussing the death of The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, earlier that morning. As the discussion continued the voice of the recently silenced singer erupted from the jukebox proclaiming, “I feel good!” The shocked employees stared at each other as Brown joyfully crooned, “I got you!” Was the soul singer speaking through the jukebox or was it just a coincidence?
At Earnestine and Hazel’s the jukebox is known to have a mind of its own and plays according to discussion or sometimes the thoughts of patrons and employees at the bar. Another time a group of friends celebrating a woman’s divorce were greeted by the jukebox blaring Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” Some time later a paranormal investigator was discussing exorcisms and the jukebox cheekily piped up from the corner with the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Interestingly, many of the performers of these songs passed across the floors of this most historic dive bar and some even slept here when Earnestine and Hazel were renting the rooms upstairs.
Sisters Earnestine Mitchell and Hazel Jones owned this bar for many years. The unassuming commercial building standing in the shadow of Memphis Central Station was initially a pharmacy. When the pharmacist, Abe Plough, became famous from his line of hair products and Coppertone brand suntan lotion, he gave this modest building to the sisters. They ran the business as a café and rented rooms upstairs by the hour. While not outright supporting the trade of the many prostitutes who plied their trade here, Earnestine and Hazel chose to turn a blind eye. Earnestine’s husband owned a nightclub nearby and would often bring the performers to the café after their shows. Many of the best names in music ranging from B.B. King to Wilson Pickett to Tina Turner passed through the doors of Earnestine and Hazel’s establishment.
In turn, Earnestine and Hazel became confidants to many patrons and, as Karen Brownlee writes, continue to do so even after their deaths in the 1990s. Tragedy struck Brownlee in 2007 when her son was shot and killed. Sobbing over the death of her son, she sat at the end of the bar and began to talk to God and the late Mrs. Earnestine in earnest. After asking for a sign that her son was alright she noticed a baby bird emerge from one of the booths, walk towards the door and fly off. Moments later and older woman entered the bar and asked if she was ok. Brownlee told her what had happened and the woman comforted her. The woman left but soon returned with a sterling silver necklace with a bird. Brownlee had not seen the woman before nor since, but she’s adamant that it was Mrs. Earnestine.
Not only are the stalwart former owners still around, but many of the former patrons are still living it up at Earnestine and Hazel’s. Former owner George Russell would regularly hear voices and clinking glasses when the bar was empty. The sounds of partying would carry on long after the living patrons had departed. But its not only sounds that are experienced, apparitions are sometimes seen here as well. The apparition of a man carrying a white pillar candle has been observed walking in the bar and paranormal investigators captured the apparition walking on the street in front of the bar about 3 AM.
Stories circulate of prostitutes either committing suicide or being murdered upstairs as well. Perhaps that explains the patrons who feel someone grab their hands at the top of the staircase. This feeling is sometimes accompanied by an overwhelming sense of sadness. When in Memphis if you wish to spend some time among the past, stop into Earnestine and Hazel’s, enjoy a Soul Burger, say hello to the sisters, maybe take the hand of a long-dead prostitute at the top of the stairs, and maybe the jukebox will cheekily pipe up with an appropriate song to accompany your visit.
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Memphis Commercial Appeal. 17 July 2012.