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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hoodoo Lady Blues - Memphis Minnie


Memphis Minnie (June 3, 1897 – August 6, 1973) was an American blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. She was the only female blues artist considered a match to male contemporaries as both a singer and an instrumentalist.
Born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana, Minnie was one of the most influential and pioneering female blues musicians and guitarists of all time. She recorded for forty years, almost unheard of for any woman in show business at the time and unique among female blues artists. A flamboyant character who wore bracelets made of silver dollars, she was a very popular blues recording artist from the early Depression years through World War II. One of the first generation of blues artists to take up the electric guitar, in 1942, she combined her Louisiana-country roots with Memphis blues to produce her own unique country-blues sound; along with Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, she took country blues into electric urban blues, paving the way for Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, and Jimmy Rogers to travel from the small towns of the south to the big cities of the north.

According to some reports she was married three times, each time to an accomplished blues guitarist: Kansas Joe McCoy later of the Harlem Hamfats, possibly Casey Bill Weldon (though there is little if any evidence for this), and Ernest "Little Son Joe" Lawlers. Paul and Beth Garon's 1992 biography on Memphis Minnie, Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues, makes no mention of a marriage to Weldon, but only says that she recorded two sides with him, in November 1935, for Bluebird Records. It does describe the relationships and marriages to McCoy and Lawlers.

After learning to play guitar and banjo as a child, she ran away from home at the age of thirteen. She traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, playing guitar in nightclubs and on the street as Lizzie "Kid" Douglas. The next year, she joined the Ringling Brothers circus. Her marriage and recording d├ębut came in 1929, to and with Kansas Joe McCoy, when a Columbia Records talent scout heard them playing in a Beale Street barbershop in their distinctive 'Memphis style,' and their song "Bumble Bee" became a hit. In the 1930s she moved to Chicago, Illinois with McCoy. She and McCoy broke up in 1935, and by 1939 she was with Little Son Joe Lawlers. In the 1940s she formed a touring vaudeville company. Some of her most potent and enduring work was made in the early 1940s, such as "Nothing in Rambling," "In My Girlish Days," "Looking The World Over" and "Me and My Chauffeur Blues".

Later in the 1940s Minnie lived in Indianapolis, Indiana and Detroit, Michigan, returning to Chicago in the early 1950s. From the 1950s on, however, public interest in her music declined, and in 1957 she and Lawlers returned to Memphis. Lawlers died in 1961.
After her health began to fail in the mid 1950s, Minnie returned to Memphis and retired from performing and recording. She spent her twilight years in a nursing home in Memphis where she died of a stroke in 1973. She is buried at the New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Walls, DeSoto County, Mississippi.
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