"Sweet, Sweet Blues" is an award winning episode of the NBC drama series In the Heat of the Night, starring Carroll O'Connor as Chief Bill Gillespie and Howard Rollins as Detective Virgil Tibbs.[3]In the Heat of the Night was based on the 1965 novel by John Ball, which was also the basis for the Academy Award winning film of the same name starring Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier, directed by Norman Jewison.[15]

Synopsis

Directed by Vincent McEveety (Firecreek) and written by William James Royce, the episode guest stars musician Bobby Short as bluesman Chester "Cat" Collins and actor James Best as Nathan Bedford. The story revolves around the forty-year-old, unsolved murder of Officer Willson Sweet's grandfather, Louis Sweet. Although the crime was never solved, there was a witness, a young black man named Ches Collins. Ches is determined to see that justice is done, even if it has been delayed all these years. One night when he sees young Officer Sweet (Geoffrey Thorne) come into his club, he sings "Sweet, Sweet Blues." The song, written by Carroll O'Connor and performed by Bobby Short, begins Sweet's heroic quest to see that justice is served before the aging murderer of his grandfather is allowed to pass away, taking his secret with him.[4][5]

That season, In the Heat of the Night won its first NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Dramatic Series and James Best won the Crystal Reel Award for Best Actor.[2]

Production notes

The inspiration for the episode is taken from the true life story of civil rights activist Medgar Evers who was murdered in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi on June 12, 1963. Although it was widely known that Evers was shot by white supremacist and Klansman Byron De La Beckwith, in 1991, when this story was written, Beckwith had apparently gotten away with murder.

In 1994, thirty years after the two previous trials had failed to reach a verdict, De La Beckwith was again brought to trial based on new evidence, and Bobby DeLaughter took on the job as the prosecutor. An aging Klansman who had heard De La Beckwith brag about the killing felt compelled, after all these years, to come forward and give testimony in a court of law. De La Beckwith was convicted of murder on February 5, 1994, after having lived as a free man for much of the three decades following the killing. He appealed, unsuccessfully, and died in prison at the age of 80, in January 2001.[2]

The Medgar Evers story has inspired numerous works of art, including literature, music, and film, helping to assure that his legacy endures.

Musician Bob Dylan wrote his 1963 song "Only a Pawn in Their Game" about the assassination of Medgar Evers.[9]On August 28 1963, at the historic “March on Washington,” Dylan sang “Only A Pawn in Their Game” at the Lincoln Memorial – where Dr. Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

Medgar's widow, Myrlie Evers co-wrote the book For Us, the Living with William Peters in 1967.[3]This book is the basis for the 1983 award-winning PBS biopic.

For Heat actor Howard Rollins, this was the second project relating to the slain civil rights worker. In 1983, Rollins starred in For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story, a made-for-television biopic that aired on PBS's American Playhouse. The movie won the prestigious Writers Guild of America award for Best Adapted Drama.[3]

In 1996, director Rob Reiner's film Ghosts of Mississippi was released. The film, starring Alec Baldwin and James Woods, details the 1994 trial and subsequent conviction of Beckwith.[3]