Blind Lemon Jefferson

The most famous male blues singer of the 1920s, Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897-1929) was a huge influence on future generations of blues performers.

Born blind on a farm in Texas, Jefferson worked as a singing beggar in 1912. There were few alternatives for a blind black teenager in the South, but fortunately Jefferson had musical talent. As time passed, he began to get jobs performing at parties, saloons, and other establishments, singing in his very expressive manner, accompanied by his impressive self-taught guitar. Reaching beyond Texas, he worked throughout parts of the South, usually being helped by a follower as he hoboed from city to city. Because he almost always performed and recorded solo, Jefferson was free to use an irregular number of bars in each chorus, changing chords when he felt like it as opposed to being confined to a specific structure.

After relocating to Chicago in 1925, Jefferson began to record a series of often-stunning records for the Paramount label, the best of which are collected on the Milestone CD Blind Lemon Jefferson. Among the tunes that he performed were “Jack O’ Diamonds Blues,” “That Black Shake Moan,” “Rabbit Foot Blues,” “Easy Rider Blues,” “Lonesome House Blues,” “Change My Luck Blues,” and “Blind Lemon’s Penitentiary Blues.” In addition to his regular records, Jefferson recorded some religious tunes under the name Deacon L.J. Bates.

Although he became well known in the blues world of the late 1920s, Blind Lemon Jefferson always had to struggle to make ends meet. He continued working in the streets, including in St. Louis, Atlanta, Texas, and Indiana. In late 1929 in Chicago, he suffered a heart attack and, being alone and outside at the time, he froze to death.