John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson

John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson

Birth
Jackson, Madison County, Tennessee, USA
Death 1 Jun 1948 (aged 34)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Burial Medon, Madison County, Tennessee, USA
Memorial ID 8395191 · View Source
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Musician. John Lee Curtis "Sonny Boy" Williamson was a pioneer Blues harmonoicist and singer of the 20th century. Not to be confused with Aleck Ford Miller, who assumed many names including "Sonny Boy Williamson II" to promote the sponsor of his radio program in Helena, Arkansas. Easily the most important harmonica player of the pre-World War II era, John Lee Williamson single-handedly made the harmonica a worthy lead instrument for blues bands and opened the door for many players such as Little Walter, Billy Boy Arnold and Junior Wells. A self-taught “mouth harp” virtuoso, he obtained, as a teenager, the nickname of “Sonny Boy.” He learned his licks from Hamie Nixon and Noah Lewis. His call and response style of alternating vocal passages with a powerful harmonica blast would be adopted by virtually every harmonica player that followed. His career began to blossom when he moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1934, and began playing with Robert Nighthawk, Big Joe Williams, Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy. From 1937 to 1947, Sonny Boy recorded over 120 sides for RCA, which included such classics as "Decoration Blues," "Whiskey Headed Blues," "Tell Me Baby," "Bring Me Another Half a Pint," "Sugar Mama," and "Hoodoo Hoodoo"(aka Hoodoo Man). His "Good Morning Little School Girl" could possibly be the most covered blues song in history. In 1947 “Shake the Boogie made number four on the Billboard Charts. Playing in clubs to African-American audiences in the South and the industrial cities of the mid-west, his popularity increased. His songs were often played in the wee morning hours on the radio. He also wrote many songs. Unfortunately, Williamson would not live to reap the rewards of his accomplishments. On the early morning of June 1, 1948 while walking home after playing the Plantation Club on Chicago's south side, he was mugged and brutally beaten. As he lay dying on the street he uttered the immortal words "Lord, have mercy on me," which would become a staple in blues lyrics. Various collections of his songs have been released on CDs several times since his death with the last in 1999. In 1980, he was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame along with Aleck Ford Miller, the other “Sonny Boy” Williamson. Besides his grave marker, he has a Tennessee Historical Marker, which was place in 1991, on State Road 18 at Caldwell Road.

Bio by: Jim Adams


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Jim Adams
  • Added: 17 Feb 2004
  • Find A Grave Memorial 8395191
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson (30 Mar 1914–1 Jun 1948), Find A Grave Memorial no. 8395191, citing Blairs Chapel CME Cemetery, Medon, Madison County, Tennessee, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .