Sunday, June 14, 2009

MEMPHIS MINNIE (1897 - 1973)

Guitar player and blues singer Memphis Minnie is considered by many to be the best female blues artist of all time.
Minnie (born Lizzie Douglas) was as tough a drinker and blues singer as any man. She not only ranks along with the blues' best female artists, but also along with the best male blues artists.
Lizzie received her first guitar in 1905 as a Christmas present. She was soon playing guitar and banjo, and sometime during her early teens began running away from home to play on Memphis' Beale Street.
Minnie would play anywhere she could- on the street, in juke jives, in dives, in the park, at house parties, anywhere they’d listen.
Memphis Minnie’s innovation and rhythm on guitar impressed her contemporaries and her teachers alike. She traveled all over the States, and she easily changed her sets or arrangements to suit the chemistry of her audience.
Minnie was married three times, and each husband was an accomplished blues guitarist: Kansas Joe McCoy later of the Harlem Hamfats, Casey Bill Weldon of the Memphis Jug Band, and Ernest "Little Son Joe" Lawlers.

"When The Levee Breaks"
by Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie

Memphis Minnie, Joe McCoy - "Pile Driver Blues"; Memphis Minnie, Ma Rainey - "Down By The Riverside"; Memphis Minnie, Memphis Jug Band - "Bumble Bee Blues"

In the mid 1950s, her health began to fail. Minnie returned to Memphis and retired from performing and recording. She spent her twilight years in a nursing home, where she died of a stroke in 1973. She is buried at the New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Walls, Mississippi.
A headstone paid for by Bonnie Raitt was erected by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund on 13 October 1996.

The inscription on the back of her gravestone reads:

"The hundreds of sides Minnie recorded are the perfect material to teach us about the blues. For the blues are at once general, and particular, speaking for millions, but in a highly singular, individual voice. Listening to Minnie's songs we hear her fantasies, her dreams, her desires, but we will hear them as if they were our own."

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