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Monday, July 15, 2013

Pearly Brown

Quite possible the last of the great blues street singers, Rev. Pearly Brown was born August 18, 1915, in Abbeville, GA. Blind from birth, he grew up in Americus, GA, where he reportedly learned to play guitar at the age of seven. As a young man he began to busk on the streets in Americus, eventually moving on to Macon, where he was a fixture on the streets for several decades. His repertoire drew heavily on Blind Willie Johnson, whose slide style he made his own. Like Johnson, he played a kind of blues gospel, singing spirituals and what Brown called "slave songs," along with country songs like "Great Speckled Bird" that had a strong spiritual content. He tasted a good deal of success in the 1960s, frequently playing large jazz and blues festivals, even opening for touring rock bands, and he was the first black performer to play on The Grand Old Opry. Rumor has it that he mentored both Duane Allman and Dickey Betts on the slide guitar. A solid singer and an often brilliant guitar player, Brown's discography is small but of high quality. Henry Oster recorded him in Macon in 1961 for the album Georgia Street Singer, which was released on Oster's Folk-Lyric label. In 1973 Bill Nowlin recorded It's a Mean Old World to Try to Live In for Rounder Records. A documentary on Brown called Mean Old World was filmed by John English in 1975, and eventually was combined with a film about bluesman Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup entitled Born in the Blues and released on video in 1997. Rev. Brown continued to sing on the streets of Macon until 1979, when poor health forced him to retire. He died in 1986. ~ Steve Leggett, Rovi  

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