MEMPHIS MINNIE (By Phil Davies)
Born Lizzie Douglas, 3 June 1897, Dubbs, Tunica County, Mississippi
Before she turned ten, Minnie and her family had relocated to Walls, Mississippi, just south of Memphis. As a child she was called Kid Douglas and learned how to play the guitar and banjo. Sometime during her early teens she began playing and singing on Memphis street corners and eventually joined Ringling Brothers Circus and toured the South.
During the 1920's she settled into Memphis' Beale Street blues scene, where in 1929 she was discovered by a talent scout for Columbia Records. Accompanied by guitarist Kansas Joe McCoy, her second husband (her first was the bluesman Casey Bill Weldon ), she recorded later that year under the name Memphis Minnie. Her first song, 'Bumble Bee', was one of the most successful of the more than one hundred sides she recorded before retiring in the mid-1950's.
Minnie and Kansas Joe migrated to Chicago in 1930, where they quickly became part of the city's growing blues scene. Along with Big Bill Broonzy, whom she reputedly beat in a "blues contest" and Tampa Red, Minnie helped the country blues style ease into an urban setting. The McCoys split up in 1935 due to Joe's jealousy of his wife's increasing fame. In 1939 she took up with yet another guitarist, Little Son Joe ( Ernest Lawlars).They were early users of amplificaton. She recorded fine stuff like the now classic Me And My Chauffeur Blues, check out the tuff influential guitar licks.
During the quarter century or so that she lived in Chicago, Minnie recorded for a number of labels, including Vocalion, Decca and Bluebird, and with a number of bluesmen, most notably Sunnyland Slim and Little Walter. For some of her sessions, Minnie employed a small combo ; for others, she was accompanied by a second guitarist. After her health began to fail in the mid-1950's, Minnie returned to Memphis and retired from performing and recording. She spent her twilight years in a nursing home there, where she died of a stroke in 1973. Memphis Minnie was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1980.
Robert Santelli wrote "Memphis Minnie ranks with Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton as one of the blues most influential and historically significant female artists. While Rainey and Smith came out of the 1920's classic blues period and Thornton out of the post-World War II urban blues era, Minnie's roots were in country blues, an idiom dominated by men. An able guitarist and an authoritative singer who packed her notes with punch and rough-edged passion, Minnie was also an excellent composer. Songs of hers such as 'Bumble Bee', 'Hoodoo Lady' and 'I Want Something For You' are genuine blues classics. Minnie's command of the blues was such that her recording career spanned three decades and survived the numerous stylistic shifts that occured within the blues. Along the way she influenced a number of prominent blues figures, from Muddy Waters on down, and almost single-handedly kept a female presence in what became an increasingly male form". Amen.
Robert Santelli's Big Book Of Blues, Pavilion Books
Guinness Who's Who Of Blues
(our very own Dave Penny is a contributer)
Paul and Beth Garon, Woman With Guitar : Memphis Minnie's Blues. New York : Da Capo, 1992.
Many cds available on Document, Indigo, Columbia legacy and Blues Classics
Proper have just issued a Memphis Minnie 2cd set, Me And My Chauffeur Blues.
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