Click on cards to watch video performances of these blues legends.
Skip James - Crow Jane
Nehemiah Curtis "Skip" James (June 21, 1902 – October 3, 1969) was an American blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter, born near Bentonia, Mississippi. In the '20s he sharecropped and made bootleg whiskey . He began playing guitar in open D-minor tuning and developed a three-finger picking technique that he would use to great effect on his recordings.The Great Depression struck just as James' recordings were hitting the market. Sales were poor as a result, and James gave up performing the blues to become the choir director in his father's church. Skip James himself was later ordained as a minister in both the Baptist and Methodist denominations, but his involvement in religious activities was sketchy.For the next thirty years, James recorded nothing and drifted in and out of music. He was virtually unknown to listeners until about 1960. Skip James was known to be an aloof and idiosyncratic artist. He seldom socialized with other bluesmen and fans. James epitomized the complicated personality typical of many bluesmen, living a hard and sometimes reckless life while holding austere religious beliefs. Though the lyrical content of some of his songs led to the characterization of James as a misogynist, he remained with his wife Lorenzo until his death.
Mississippi John Hurt -
Lonesome Valley Blues
Raised in Avalon, Mississippi, he learned to play guitar at age 9. He spent much of his youth playing old time music for friends and dances, earning a living as a farm hand into the 1920s. In 1923 he often partnered with the fiddle player Willie Narmour (Carroll County Blues) as a substitute for his regular partner Shell Smith. When Narmour got a chance to record for OKeh Records in reward for winning first place in a 1928 fiddle contest, Narmour recommended John Hurt to OKeh Records producer Tommy Rockwell. After auditioning "Monday Morning Blues" at his home, he took part in two recording sessions, in Memphis and New York City. The "Mississippi" tag was added by OKeh as a sales gimmick. After the commercial failure of the resulting disc and OKeh records going out of business during the depression, Hurt returned to Avalon and obscurity working as a sharecropper and playing local parties and dances.
In 1963, however, a folk musicologist named Tom Hoskins, inspired by the recordings, was able to locate John Hurt near Avalon, Mississippi. In fact, in an early recording, Hurt sang of "Avalon, my home town." With his guitar playing skills still intact, Hoskins encouraged Hurt to move to Washington, DC, and begin performing on a wider stage. Whereas his first releases had coincided with the Great Depression, his new career could hardly have been better timed. A stellar performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival saw his star rise amongst the new "folk revival" audience, and before his death in 1966 he played extensively in colleges, concert halls, coffee houses and even the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson , as well as recording three further albums for Vanguard Records. John Hurt's influence spans several music genres including blues, country, bluegrass, folk and contemporary rock and roll. A soft-spoken man, his nature was reflected in the work, which remained a mellow mix of country, blues and old time music to the end.
Son House - Levee Camp Blues
His date of birth is a matter of some debate. Son House himself alleged that he was middle aged during World War I, and, more specifically, that he was 79 in 1965, which would mean that he was born around 1886. However, all legal records place his birth on March 21, 1902.
House's innovative style featured very strong, repetitive rhythms, often played with the aid of a bottleneck, coupled with singing that owed more than a nod to the hollers of the chain gangs. The music of Son House, was emphatically a dance music, meant to be heard in the noisy atmosphere of a barrelhouse or other dance hall. Ill health plagued his later years. He died from cancer of the larynx in 1988. He had been married five times.
(April 30, 1896 – May 5, 1972) was an African American blues and gospel singer as well as a renowned guitarist. His unique finger-picking style was influential on many subsequent artists
Born in Laurens, South Carolina, Davis became blind at a very young age. He took to the guitar and assumed a unique multi-voice style produced solely with his thumb and index finger, playing not only ragtime and blues tunes, but also traditional and original tunes in four-part harmony. In the mid-1920s, he migrated to Durham, North Carolina, a major center for black culture at the time.It was also during his time in Durham that Davis converted to Christianity; he would later become ordained as a Baptist minister. Following his conversion and especially his ordination, Davis began to express a preference for inspirational gospel music. In the 1940s, the blues scene in Durham began to decline and Davis migrated to New York City. By the 1960s, he had become known as the "Harlem Street Singer"
(Walter E.) "Furry" Lewis -
When I Lay My Burden Down
(March 6, 1899- September 14, 1981) was a blues guitarist from Memphis, Tennessee. He was one of the first of the old-time blues musicians of the 1920s to be brought out of retirement and given a new lease of recording life by the folk blues revival of the 1960s.Furry's style of blues was in many ways typical of the 'songsters' who operated in and around Memphis in the 1920s, for whom the value of a song was the story it told, and who tended to back their words with hypnotic repetitive riffs and subtle slide guitars. Furry Lewis's soft voice and quick slide work were particularly effective in this style.
Big Bill Broonzy-
Worried Man Blues
“When you write about me, please don’t say I’m a jazz musician. Don’t say
I’m a musician or a guitar player -- just write ‘Big Bill was a well-known blues
singer and player and has recorded 260 blues songs from 1925 up till 1952; he was a
happy man when he was drunk and playing with women; he was liked by all the blues
singers, some would get a little jealous sometimes, but Bill would buy a bottle
of whisky and they all would start laughing and playing again.’”
*Bukka White, Mississippi Fred Mcdowell-