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Robert Johnson’s death certificate states the bluesman was buried at “Zion Church” in Leflore County, Mississippi—hardly conclusive, as a few different churches could claim that designation, but probably a pretty good clue that Johnson was not buried at Payne Chapel, conspicuously Zion-less in name.
So why does this church have a Robert Johnson headstone in its graveyard? Because enough people asked enough times where the musician was buried, until Queen Elizabeth Thomas pointed Payne’s way. Thomas, who claimed to have been Johnson’s former girlfriend, told Living Blues magazine in 1990 that the singer was buried at this church, and Atlanta-based band the Tombstones responded promptly by funding the headstone in tribute to one of their favorite musicians. There it remains, despite the evidence that later accumulated and proved Johnson was buried elsewhere.
The many myths surrounding Robert Johnson have proven to possess remarkable staying power, including the myth his gravesite remains disputed and unconfirmed. The National Park Service, for example, mistakenly claims Johnson is buried at Payne—or, more specifically, that he was re-interred there after a rushed first burial elsewhere. Johnson was, in fact, re-interred after a hasty first burial, but both of those burials took place at Little Zion Church in Greenwood, Mississippi. Word of his reinterment has been one of the primary drivers of rumors that Johnson may be buried elsewhere, though those rumors have long been proven false.