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The Musicians

A.C Forehand and Blind Mamie Forehand

Blind Musician

Document Records
Document Records
While it may not have been that common for women to sing the blues professionally in the ’20s, Forehand was one of many who did sing gospel and also one of the few who did manage to leave compelling documentation behind. She was an active singer of spirituals on the streets of Memphis, a venue that logically led to the stylistic classification of street-corner or storefront gospel. “Honey in the Rock” is one of the titles she recorded in 1927, and… February 21, 2013

Arizona Dranes

Blind Musician

Herwin Recordings
Herwin Recordings
“Juanita” Arizona Dranes was born in Dallas, Texas around 1905. Born blind, Dranes is believed to have been of Mexican and African-American heritage, and was raised in the Church of God in Christ in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Dranes’ enthusiastic shouting and piano playing were so dynamic that they practically recommended themselves Arizona Dranes is credited by some experts to have invented the “barrelhouse,” ragtime-derived style of gospel accompaniment, and at this point in time there is no known evidence… February 21, 2013

Bernice Johnson Reagon

Scholar

Photo: DC Dept. of Tourism
Photo: DC Dept. of Tourism
Though perhaps most widely known as the founder and guiding force of the Washington, D.C.-based women’s group Sweet Honey in the Rock, Bernice Johnson Reagon is also a noted political activist, a Distinguished Professor at Washington’s American University and a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution. She also occasionally records solo albums. During the ’60s she was a founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers. Before founding Sweet Honey in the Rock in 1973, she was the vocal… February 21, 2013

Bessie Smith

Sighted Musician

Photo: Carl Van Vechten
Photo: Carl Van Vechten
The first major blues and jazz singer on record and one of the most powerful of all time, Bessie Smith rightly earned the title of “The Empress of the Blues.” Even on her first records in 1923, her passionate voice overcame the primitive recording quality of the day and still communicates easily to today’s listeners (which is not true of any other singer from that early period). via Allmusic  

Big Mama Thornton

Sighted Musician

Photo: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Photo: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton only notched one national hit in her lifetime, but it was a true monster. “Hound Dog” held down the top slot on Billboard’s R&B charts for seven long weeks in 1953. Alas, Elvis Presley’s rocking 1956 cover was even bigger, effectively obscuring Thornton’s chief claim to immortality. Thornton was a tough cookie. She dressed like a man and took no guff from anyone, even as the pounds fell off her once-ample frame and she became… February 21, 2013

Blind Blake

Blind Musician

Photo: Harry N. Abrams Publishing
Photo: Harry N. Abrams Publishing
One of the greatest blues guitarists of all-time, Blake seems to have been the primary developer of “finger-style” ragtime on the guitar, the six-string equivalent to playing ragtime on the piano.We still don’t know anything verifiable about Blake which he doesn’t tell us on his records. Practically all of what is “known” about Blind Blake outside of that is a combination of conjecture, rumor, slander and nonsense. Blind Blake is known to have had family in the area of Jacksonville,… February 21, 2013

Blind Boys of Alabama

Blind Musician

Photo: The Blind Boys of Alabama
Photo: The Blind Boys of Alabama
Although the Blind Boys of Alabama have been singing gospel music for more than five decades, it’s only recently that the group has had the benefit of a major record company behind it. From their inception in the 1930s, when all were boys, the group’s members turned their blindness into their chief selling point, and in fact, all members of the group except one are blind. They began singing when all were students at the Talladega Institute for the Deaf… February 21, 2013

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Blind Musician

Photo: Harry N. Abrams Publishing
Photo: Harry N. Abrams Publishing
Country blues guitarist and vocalist Blind Lemon Jefferson is indisputably one of the main figures in country blues. He was of the highest in many regards, being one of the founders of Texas blues, one of the most influential country bluesmen of all time, one of the most popular bluesmen of the 1920s, and the first truly commercially successful male blues performer. Jefferson was born on a farm in Couchman, TX, outside of Wortham, and, blind from the time of… February 21, 2013

Blind Tom

Blind Musician

Overlook Hardcover
Overlook Hardcover
Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins (May 25, 1849 – June 14, 1908) was an African American autistic savant and musical prodigy on thepiano. He had numerous original compositions published and had a lengthy and largely successful performing career throughout the United States. During the 19th century, he was one of the most well-known American performing pianists. (via Wikipedia )

Blind WIllie Johnson

Blind Musician

Blind Willie Johnson
Seminal gospel-blues artist Blind Willie Johnson is regarded as one of the greatest bottleneck slide guitarists. Yet the Texas street-corner evangelist is known as much for the his powerful and fervent gruff voice as he is for his ability as a guitarist. He most often sang in a rough, bass voice (only occasionally delivering in his natural tenor) with a volume meant to be heard over the sounds of the street. His mother died while he was still a baby,… February 21, 2013