SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON Biography - Musicians


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Name: Sonny Boy Williamson                                                                 
Birth name: John Lee Curtis Williamson                                                     
Born: 30 March 1914                                                                       
Died: 1 June 1948                                                                         
Sonny Boy Williamson (John Lee Curtis Williamson, 30 March 1914 - 1 June 1948)             
was an American blues harmonica player, and the first to use the name Sonny Boy           
He was born near Jackson, Tennessee in 1914. His original harmonica recordings             
were considered to be in the country blues style, but he soon demonstrated skill           
at making harmonica a lead instrument for the blues, and popularized the                   
instrument for the first time in a more urban blues setting. He has been called           
"the father of modern blues harp".                                                         
His very first recording, "Good Morning, School Girl", was a major hit on the 'race       
records' market in 1937. He was hugely popular among black audiences throughout           
the whole southern U.S. as well as in the midwestern industrial cities such as             
Detroit and his home base in Chicago, and his name was synonymous with the blues           
harmonica for the next decade. Other well-known recordings of his include "Shake           
the Boogie", "You Better Cut That Out", "Sloppy Drunk", and "Early In The                 
Morning". Williamson's style influenced a large number of blues harmonica                 
performers, including Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells, Sonny Terry, Little Walter,         
and Snooky Pryor among many others. He was easily the most widely heard and               
influential blues harmonica player of his generation. His music was also                   
influential on many of his non-harmonica playing contemporaries and successors,           
including Muddy Waters (who had played with Williamson in the mid-1940s) and               
Jimmy Rogers (whose first recording in 1946 was as a harmonica player,                     
performing an uncanny imitation of Williamson's style); Rogers later recorded             
Williamson's songs "My Little Machine" and "Sloppy Drunk" on Chess, and Waters             
recorded "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" on CBS/Blue Sky.                                 
He was popular enough that by the 1940s, another blues harp player, Aleck/Alex "Rice"     
Miller, who was based in Helena, Arkansas, began also using the name Sonny Boy             
Williamson. John Lee is said to have objected to this, though no legal action             
took place, possibly due to the fact that Miller did not release any records               
during Williamson's lifetime, and also because Williamson played mainly around             
the Chicago area, and Miller seldom ventured beyond the Mississippi delta region.         
Williamson recorded prolifically both as a bandleader and a sideman over the               
entire course of his career, mainly for the Bluebird record label, with many               
early sessions taking place at the Leland Hotel in Aurora, Illinois; most later           
sessions were recorded in Chicago. His final recording session took place in               
December 1947, backing Big Joe Williams. On June 1, 1948, John Lee Williamson             
was killed in a mugging on Chicago's South Side, as he walked home from his               
final performance at The Plantation Club at 31st St. and Giles Ave., a tavern             
just a block and a half away from his home at 3226 S. Giles.                               
His legacy has been overshadowed in the post-war blues era by the popularity of           
the musician who falsely assumed his name, Rice Miller, who after Williamson's             
death went on to record many popular blues songs for Chicago's Checker Records             
label and others, and toured Europe several times during the 'blues revival' in           
the early 1960s.                                                                           
Williamson is buried at the former site of The Blairs Chapel Church, southwest             
of Jackson, Tennessee. In 1991, a red granite marker was purchased by fans and             
family to mark the site of his burial. A Tennessee historical marker, also                 
placed in 1991, indicates the place of his birth and describes his influence on           
blues music. The historical marker is located south of Jackson on TN Highway 18,           
at the corner of Caldwell Road.