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Blind Lemon Jefferson (Part 8) on Leftover Biscuits

A Look at Blues Legend
Blind Lemon Jefferson
with Joe Ayers, Part VIII
on Leftover Biscuits
Saturday, June 28, 2008, 6:30-8AM

Blind Lemon Jefferson

As part of a special ongoing series, Joe Ayers, one of the world's leading authorities on blues legend Blind Lemon Jefferson, returns to Leftover Biscuits. In this program, Ayers will focus on the landmark year, 1926; the first year Jefferson recorded with Paramount in Chicago. In addition to Blind Lemon's material, we will also listen to other music recorded that year.

Blind Lemon Jefferson, blues musician, son of Alec and Cassie Jefferson, was born in Coutchman, Texas, in July 1897 (an estimated date since no records are available). He was born blind and was known all his life as Blind Lemon Jefferson. Jefferson received no formal education and instead traveled from town to town in the Wortham area, playing his guitar and singing songs, most of which were his own compositions. He later moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and became a well-known figure in the Deep Ellum district of Dallas. There he met Huddie Ledbetter (better known as "Leadbelly"), and for a time they played together in some of the brothels of Texas' cities. Leadbelly's "Blind Lemon Blues" was in honor of his friend. Jefferson was discovered by a talent scout for Paramount Records while in Dallas and was taken to Chicago. He made seventy-nine records for Paramount in the 1920s, each estimated to have sold 100,000 copies; he also made two recordings under the "Okeh" label. Recordings included "Matchbox Blues," "Black Snake Moan," and "See that My Grave is Kept Clean." He recorded spirituals under the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates. Jefferson is recognized as one of the earliest representatives of the "classic blues" field, considered to be one of the best folk blues singers of the 1920s, and said to have influenced such artists as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and Bix Beiderbecker, and to have encouraged Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins when Hopkins was an eight-year-old boy in Buffalo, Texas. It is not definitely known whether Jefferson was married, although one source says he married in 1922 or 1923 and had a son. He died in late December 1929 in Chicago. The exact date and cause of death is unknown because there was no death certificate, but it was reported that he had a heart attack and died on the streets during a snowstorm. Blind Lemon was buried in the Wortham Negro Cemetery, and his grave was marked as an official Texas historical monument in 1967. Jefferson was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1980.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Alan B. Govenar, /Meeting the Blues/ (Dallas: Taylor, 1988). Alan Lomax, /Folk Songs of North America/ (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1960). Robert Santelli, /Big Book of the Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia/ (New York: Penguin Books, 1993). Vertical Files, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin.

- Marilynn Wood Hill

Joe Ayers
Joe Ayers

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