Lemon Jefferson

Lemon Jefferson

Freestone County, Texas, USA
Death 19 Dec 1929 (aged 36)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Cenotaph Wortham, Freestone County, Texas, USA
Plot Actual grave location is unknown
Memorial ID 6142078 · View Source
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Blues Musician. He was the first male blues performer to win national fame and one of the most influential country bluesmen of all time. His best known songs, the 1927 hits "Matchbox Blues", "Black Snake Moan", and "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", are often-covered classics. The son of Texas sharecroppers, Lemon (or Lemmon) Henry Jefferson was born in the now-defunct town of Coutchman, near Wortham in Freestone County. Blind from birth, he taught himself guitar and by his early teens was earning some sadly needed coins performing at parties and picnics. Around 1917 he moved to the Deep Ellum section of Dallas, playing on street corners by day and in honky-tonks and brothels at night. For a time he partnered with Lead Belly and later gave guitar lessons to a young family friend, T-Bone Walker. After World War I he traveled extensively throughout the South, perhaps as far as Georgia, eagerly guided by aspiring musicians who were awed by his gifts. A big, imposing man (he topped 300 pounds), he kept a tin cup wired to the neck of his guitar, which he would "aim" at listeners who expressed pleasure in his music. If he heard a penny drop into the cup, he'd contemptuously chuck it away without missing a beat. Jefferson's grassroots reputation eventually reached the ears of a Texas talent scout, who in December 1925 brought him to Chicago to record for the Paramount label. Curiously, his first two singles were gospel songs issued under the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates, suggesting that Paramount was initially unsure of its find. Up to that point recorded blues was the province of female vocalists (Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox) performing songs written by others and accompanied by bands. With the release of his runaway hit "Long Lonesome Blues" (1926), Texas troubadour Jefferson changed all that, popularizing the solo singer-guitarist sound that helped define the genre at least until World War II. He turned out some 100 tracks between 1926 and 1929; all but two - "Matchbox Blues" and "Black Snake Moan", recorded for the Okeh label - were released by Paramount. The commercial success he enjoyed is rather puzzling given his uncompromising originality. His songs were made for listening, not dancing, with tough lyrics about African-American life sung in a powerful wailing voice. ("He hollered like someone was hitting him all the time", recalled bluesman Reverend Gary Davis). He had a casual approach to bar structure, allowing his vocals and complex guitar licks to come in whenever and last as long as they pleased, though his technique was so elegantly controlled the songs never lose their forward momentum. Jefferson showed signs of burnout in his 1929 recordings, as years of heavy drinking and obesity took their toll. His mysterious demise at age 36 that December, on a Chicago street during one of the city's worst-ever snowstorms, gave rise to the legend that he froze to death after getting lost. Other rumors claimed he was hit by a car or killed by robbers. The 2010 discovery of his death certificate (it had been filed under the wrong first name) settled the matter prosaically: he collapsed from heart failure outside his apartment building, the underlying cause being "probably chronic myocarditis". Paramount paid for his body to be shipped back to Texas for burial at the Wortham Negro Cemetery (now Blind Lemon Jefferson Memorial Cemetery). Contrary to the sentiments of "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", his plot went unmarked and unrecorded. A Texas Historical Marker (1967) and granite headstone (1997) could only be erected in what a few people remembered as the general area of his resting place. Jefferson was an inaugural inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards



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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Cinnamonntoast4
  • Added: 30 Jan 2002
  • Find a Grave Memorial 6142078
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Lemon Jefferson (24 Sep 1893–19 Dec 1929), Find a Grave Memorial no. 6142078, citing Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery, Wortham, Freestone County, Texas, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .