Most Authentic Old-Time Blues Artists
The blues as a musical style was born in the late 19th century in the Mississippi Delta. Early bluesmen traveled from town to town, performing their music to general public. Most of the musicians were born into poverty and worked hard on plantations. Their lives full of hard labor and whiskey had a great impact on the music they played. Below is a list of prominent musicians who can be called true blues artists.
Blind Lemon Jefferson
SantaCruzBluesFestival Blind Lemon Jefferson
Jefferson was born in a family of sharecroppers on October 26, 1894 (this is what he wrote on his World War I draft registration). Most of his life Jefferson was traveling and playing music for anyone who would listen. Because of his blindness this was the only occupation available to him. He was first buried in an unmarked grave but in 1967 a Texas Historical Marker was given to him.
SantaCruzBluesFestival Skip James
Born in Bentonia, Mississippi, Skip James was the son of a bootlegger who then became preacher. After his father left the family in 1907, his mother scraped up some money to buy him his first guitar when he was ten. James used to run away from home and then finally gave up high school to work at the construction sites and cut timber. After moving to Memphis James worked as a pianist in a brothel.
SantaCruzBluesFestival B.B. King
The most renowned blues artist, B.B. King lived into old age, unlike most of blues musicians who died rather early. Born in 1925, King grew up on a plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi. In 1947 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, dreaming to start a music career. In the fire in the dance hall in Arkansas that was started because two men started a fight and knocked over a gas stove B.B. nearly had his guitar destroyed. After King found out that the men who started the fire fought over a woman named Lucille he named his guitar Lucille as a lesson for him never to fight over a woman.
SantaCruzBluesFestival Bessie Smith
Born in 1894 in the family of ten children Smith lost both of her parents when she was just eight years old. In the 20s she was a very popular female blues vocalist and her recording "Down Hearted Blues" (1923) became a best seller. However, by the 1930s, her Classic Blues style became out of fashion. The Depression and alcohol abuse caused her career to slack down. In 1937, Smith and her manager got into a car accident where she was badly injured. She died in the hospital.
SantaCruzBluesFestival Muddy Waters
The real name of Waters is McKinley Morganfield. He was born in 1915 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. His grandmother brought him up after his mother died when he was just three years old. He got his second name because he loved to play in the water of Deer Creek located nearby. He learned to play harmonica and by the age of thirteen, he was playing at local gatherings. When he was 17 he earned some money by sharecropping and bought a guitar. He traveled from town to town playing the guitar, and then moved to Chicago where his music became popular on radio.
Blind Willie Johnson
SantaCruzBluesFestival Blind Willie Johnson
It is known that Willie Johnson was not born blind, but how he lost his vision is a mystery. There were rumors that his stepmother threw lye in his face when he was 7, as a punishment for fighting his father. Johnson loved to sing in the kitchen and recite extracts from the Bible, according to what his daughter Sam Faye Kelly said. Unfortunately he died when she was still very young. In 1977 Johnson's song "Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground)" was put on the spaceship Voyager 1, for aliens to listen as well.
SantaCruzBluesFestival Charley Patton
Born in the family of sharecroppers in southern Mississippi in April 1891 Charley Patton had a peculiar guttural and whiskey-soaked voice. At that time most blues songs were about unrequited love, but Patton also sang about prison (High Sheriff Blues) and natural disaster (High Water Blues). He was a heavy smoker, drank hard and once was even imprisoned. He had never wanted to marry a woman: in one of his songs there are lines: "don't wanna marry, just wanna be your man".
Ledbelly, whose real name is Huddie Ledbetter, was born in Mooringsport, Louisiana, in 1889. He dropped out of school after the 8th grade and soon became a popular local musician. Sometimes he worked at cotton plantations when he couldn't find work as a musician. His music had a seductive power on many men. In 1918 he got into a fight in Dallas, and killed the man. He was to spend thirty years in prison in Huntsville, Texas. After he appealed to the governor with a song he wrote for him asking for a pardon, the governor pardoned him, even though he had made a campaign promise that he would never pardon a prisoner again. Ledbelly did get to the Angola Farm prison in Louisiana later for another fight. In 1949 he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease and soon died.
SantaCruzBluesFestival Son House
Born in 1902, not far from Lyon, Mississippi, House worked hard in the cotton fields as a teenager, and joined the Baptist church. Later he abandoned the church because of the affair with an older woman. During a fight at a house party in Lyon in 1928, House shot a man. He was sentenced to work on Parchman Farm. He wrote music in a sermon-like style and his musical themes ranged from the divine to the secular pleasures. His distinct a cappella style became his trademark.
SantaCruzBluesFestival Robert Johnson
Born on the Mississippi Delta on May 8, 1911, Johnson grew up on a plantation. He was believed to have sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads, in exchange for his musical talent. Johnson died at the age of 27 under unknown circumstances. Despite the fact that he recorded only 29 songs, his impact on blues and rock music is great.
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