There aren't too many stories in the blues lexicon like Memphis Minnie's. At age 13 she ran away from home to fend for herself on Memphis' Beale Street. Fortunately for, she had prodigious musical talents far beyond her years and quickly adjusted to life as a street performer. Memphis Minnie was soon called upon to spread the blues far and wide as a performer in the Ringling Bros. "Greatest Show on Earth." She returned home in 1920 to a booming Beale Street and a thriving music industry built around blues music. She naturally became one of its brightest stars.
This week we learn about the "Father of The Blues," W.C. Handy.
Handy once said that he found his inspiration as a composer in the "sounds of the world around him" - nature, church, and the bustling city. His exquisitely trained ear and phonographic memory allowed him to recall and transcribe everthing he encountered. This ability paid off handsomely when Handy began tranlating the feel, scales, and phrasing of African American folk music into big band arrangements.
In 1909… infamous Memphis politician Boss Crump hired Handy to write a catchy song for his campaign. Sitting at Pee Wee's Saloon on Beale Street, Handy wrote the song "Mr. Crump" later changing the name and publishing the song as "Memphis Blues," ushering in a new era for popular music. It also launched Handy's music publishing empire - positioning Handy as a crucial player in the formative era of the modern music industry.
This is his story.
We continue this series with The King of The Blues, BB King. Born in 1925 on a cotton plantation near Itta Benna, MS, Riley Benjamin King found his muse early in the sacred sounds of rural, Pentacostal church.
First given a guitar by his mother's cousin, famed blues man Bukka White, King soon traded the cruel world of cotton plantations and sharecropping for the excitement and opportunities of life in Memphis and on Beale Street. Never has it the phrase "and the rest is history" been more true.
One of the most important and influential people in the pantheon of American music, BB and his guitar Lucille will live on forever. This is his story.
Was there ever another blues musician so proficient at so many styles and on so many different instruments? Gatemouth Brown was certainly one-of-a-kind. The genre defying artist' career spanned 60 years, beginning the moment he filled in for an ailing T-Bone Walker in a Houston, TX nightclub, improvising a night's worth of material to the crowd's delight. Gatemouth won a Grammy in his lifetime, was nominated for five more, and took home eight Blues Music Awards. This is his story.
This episode we learn about the electrified marvel that was Thibeaux Walker, or "T-Bone," as he came to be known around the world. Walker was the original guitar hero of the blues, inspiring BB King, Chuck Berry, and Jimi Hendrix to pick up the guitar. He invented the modern guitar solo. As a pioneer of jump blues, and the man that introduced electricity to that genre, he innovated a sound that gave rise to the development of rock & roll.
Led by the enigmatic Will Shade, the Memphis Jug band was an ever-evolving collective sporting different, talent-packed lineups for every gig and every recording session. The group was on hand for the very first commercial recording session in Memphis, TN, and went on to record over 100 sides for Victor, Champion, and Okeh Records in their heyday.
Guitars, fiddles, kazoos, washtub bass, and ceramic jugs laid the foundation of their unique sound, but what drew the crowds and sold the records were their well-crafted songs full of witty hooks and choreographed call-and-response sections.
The Memphis Jug Band would often record under different aliases. Sometimes album cuts were credited to individulal members of the band - Will Shade, Hattie Hart, and Memphis Minnie. The band recorded gospel songs under an entirely different moniker - The Memphis Sanctified Singers.
The Memphis Jug Band popularized the jug band format, which evolved into the blues combo that is the basis for most popular music today.
We continue the series with the world’s first international blues superstar, Alberta Hunter.
Alberta Hunter was a singular talent. Born and raised in Memphis, TN, she began her professional singing career at age 11. By her late twenties, she’d fronted orchestras led by King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, and written "Down Hearted Blues", a massive hit for Bessie Smith.
In the height of Jim Crow, and years before women in America had secured the right to vote, Alberta Hunter became the world’s first blues superstar by taking her talents to Paris and London, where she was received and revered as nothing less than musical royalty.
We begin this series with the first artist to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, Robert Johnson - King of the Delta Blues.
Johnson was hailed as a genius by those that knew him. His style and technique were so ahead of his time that almost a century later, his recordings still astonish listeners. His list of devotees include rock n roll royalty: Keith Richards, Eric Claption, and Bob Dylan, to name just a few.