Of the different music genres to originate in Mississippi with the abundance of Mississippi musicians, one of the most underrated genres is blues.
B.B. King is known throughout the county as a household name, even for people who do not like blues music; however, Mississippi has been the birthplace of several important figures in blues music—Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters.
Blues music and the entire blues genre is extremely underrated but deserves as much credit as the other genres of music because blues has been extremely influential throughout music history. All Mississippians should be aware of this influence and of these three blues icons as music is something that Mississippi can be proud of. By extension, Union residents should be aware of this and appreciate Mississippi’s blues musicians as well.
The first of the blues musicians to call Mississippi home is Robert Johnson; born on Aug. 16, 1938, in Hazlehurst, Johnson’s fame can be compared to that of William Shakespeare’s in the sense that he was not extremely popular in his own lifetime. Only after Johnson had died did his work produce significant fame and even researched scholarship.
Johnson only recorded 29 songs in his career and performed mostly at small venues around the Delta. Despite his small fame, Johnson has proved extremely influential in blues, country, and rock, earning him an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and several other prestigious music awards. His most well-known single is “Cross Road Blues,” and this song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
Interestingly enough, Johnson also became associated with legends of meeting the Devil at the Cross Roads. According to local legend, Johnson met the Devil at the crossroads near the Dockery Plantation at midnight in the Delta, and at this crossroads, the Devil appeared. In exchange for Johnson’s soul, the Devil made Johnson a master guitarist.
In fact, this legend closely resembles 15th and 16th century German legend of Faust. Whether one considers the legends or not, no one can deny that Robert Johnson is one of the most influential blues musicians of all time.
Another great blues musician from Mississippi is John Lee Hooker, and although his exact date and place of birth is unconfirmed, he was born around 1920 in either Tallahatchie County or Coahoma County. During his young life, he was a sharecropper and only allowed to listen to church spirituals. When his mother married the blues singer William Moore, he became exposed to the blues genre and to guitar playing. In his style of Delta Blues, Hooker used an electric guitar, a rarity in that subgenre of blues, and incorporated other genres of music into his playing.
He had several hit songs in various stages of his career. Some of these are “Crawling King Snake,” “Dimples,” “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” He won several awards for all of his music and is considered one of the most influential figures in blues.
Born on April 4, 1913, in Issaquena County (near Clarksdale), Muddy Waters became another one of the preeminent musicians in the blues genre; he is known as the father of Chicago blues and drew influences from several earlier musicians (one of which is Robert Johnson). Soon after the end of World War II and a recording session in Mississippi, he moved from Mississippi to Chicago to expand his music career. In addition to earlier blues artists, he also gained influences from church music, which can clearly be heard in his music.
Many of his most famous songs are known as blues classics today, “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” and “I’m Ready.” He won several awards for his music and has influenced several other genres as well. He even caused a resurgence in jazz music in England during the late 1950s. In order to honor him, his cabin in Clarksdale has been placed on the Mississippi Blues Trail, and Clarksdale gave him a plaque on the Clarksdale Walk of Fame. Because of his influence in various genres of music, Waters has truly earned these honors and many more.
Of various genres of music to originate in Mississippi, blues is by far the most well represented. Hundreds of blues artists have called Mississippi home, and these three are barely the surface of the state’s vast history with blues music (picking three was an extremely hard task). Blues tends to be underrepresented as a music genre.
However, the influence of early blues musicians on all genres of music cannot be understated. Blues is a part of Mississippi’s culture, and everyone should be proud that such influential blues artists come from somewhere close to home.