Tag Archives: stage

Happy Birthday Luther Vandross

2It is with great pride and pleasure I take in resurrecting the ghost of the greats that enriched my life, and dare I say made the world a better place.  I’ve highlighted and spotlighted many enormous champions of the African American experience, along with many who, regardless of their station, changed the world and made tremendous contributions. This was to also include the monumental musical giants of our time. In fact, I would be remissed if I did not acknowledge the spirits of those artists and entertainers whose presence will live within us for eternity.

I am rarely at a loss for words, but the voice of Luther Ronzoni Vandross was so passionate and powerful that I have no words; other than to say the day Luther Vandross transitioned to the great beyond was a mighty loss. We will never hear a voice of such quality, sweetness, or grace every again. So on this day I want to put you in a mellow mood with these attached videos of the legacy Luther left for use to enjoy. Rest In Peace. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


Remembering Eddie Kendricks

2I am one of the Temptations biggest fans but most would agree that every woman who ever heard the sweet tenor voice of the man known simply as “Eddie” was in love with this man. He was a man with the sweetest and silkiest tenor voice of any man to sing a tune.

His persona was quiet and cool, with a voice that made women drool. The tall, lean and handsome tenor from Union Springs, Alabama was little more than eighteen when he arrived in Detroit, the town where he would eventually find fame as a member of the Motown super-group, The Temptations.

Eddie arrived in Detroit along with childhood friends Paul Williams and Kell Osborne. Together they formed a classic vocal group they called The Primes. Their tunes extended beyond the usual teenage Doo-wop tunes to include sophisticated material such as that of the Mills Brothers. So it was natural, or maybe fate, when Otis Williams first saw The Primes perform he couldn’t help but notice the vocal prowess of Kendricks, and the smooth moves of Paul Williams.

When the Primes disbanded, and all three members separated, Eddie came back to Detroit from Birmingham to visit Paul; he put in a phone call to Otis. The timing was perfect since Otis just happened to have two spots to fill in his group, The Distants. Paul and Eddie added a whole new dimension to his group’s sound, and the merging of the two groups became the Elgins. Now, they were ready to audition for Berry Gordy.

The audition went well, and the group was offered a contract right on the spot. It was 1961, but the group wouldn’t have their first hit for a few years. Meanwhile, the group worked hard on their singing, their moves, and their look. Eddie always dressed beautifully; he had a knack for being sharp and hip, but classy at the same time so his job in the group would be wardrobe, and he began putting together the group’s stage uniforms.

The group continued recording on a regular basis with either Paul or Eddie leading on all the early songs, but none of the 1962 singles did much, including the unique “Dream Come True”, and “Paradise”. Both tunes featured Eddie’s vocals, and they are appreciated today, but at the time they didn’t even make the pop chart.

In early 1964, David Ruffin joined the group, and coincidently things began to change. Smokey Robinson told the group he’d booked the studio for them to record a song he’d written with Bobby Rogers, one of the Miracles while driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. That night the five of them met at Eddie’s house and set out on the familiar walk over to Hitsville. The song, “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, was charming and perfect for Eddie’s voice. It was like a dream, finally; the song would peak at number 11 on the pop chart, and the group went off on their first full Motortown Review tour.

Before the year was over, the guys knew that success was not only possible, but probable, and they would get their share of good times and beautiful women, and Eddie, as it would turn out certainly had the power to attract women. Eddie was ahead of his time in picking the clothes, although the guys at first objected to some purple suits he had chosen. Otis thought the suits would make them look like pimps, but in the end they trusted his judgment and he ordered five purple suits with a white button. He was right, when the crowd saw them in those suits; they went absolutely wild.

In 1965, Smokey Robinson, who was writing mostly all of their material, turned his attention away from Eddie momentarily to hand over to David Ruffin who sung their big breakthrough hit “My Girl”. The song would hit number one and stay there for eight weeks. Over the next few years, many of the songs would be cut on David, but Eddie would not be left behind either.

In 1966, Smokey would hand Eddie the song “Get Ready”, but it didn’t do as well as the songs Norman Whitfield wrote with David in mind, such as “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.” Norman’s song did much better on the charts, and shortly thereafter, Norman Whitfield would begin writing and producing the group almost exclusively. David would get most of the leads, but Eddie would still have his chance to shine.

The guys were tight and hung out together at one another’s houses where Melvin would cook up a pot of beans and cornbread. Eddie loved cornbread so much the guys playfully nicknamed him “cornbread”. As time passed, and David Ruffin was dismissed in 1968, Eddie changed, upset with the attitudes of some of the group members, he formed an alliance with David outside the group. In the late 1960’s, times would change and so would Norman’s material. Eddie still preferred the harmonious love songs and wanted to do some of his own material separate from the group. The group said no, and Eddie became even more dissatisfied.

It was after a performance at the Copa in 1970. Eddie walked out after the first show, and it was decided, mutually, that it was time for him to leave the Temptations, and so he did, leaving them with one of their all time biggest hits. Eddie went on to have a very respectable solo career and later toured with David and Dennis until the end of his life.

Eddie’s legacy is profound and establish him as one of the greatest Temptations. On October 16, 1999, Eddie Kendrick Memorial Park was dedicated to the Birmingham native. The memorial features a bronze sculpture of Kendricks by local artist Ron McDowell, as well as sculptures of the other Temptations, set into a granite wall. Inscribed on the granite are the names of Temptation’s hit songs. Recorded music can be heard throughout the park, featuring songs by Kendricks and the Temptations.

I will say this: Eddie left the world a lot of music that others are trying to imitate and duplicate! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

22


Amos ‘n’ Andy: The Mystic Nights Of The Sea

aWhen I was a child, there was a television show called “Amos ‘n’ Andy.” Considering the way thing were during that time, the only black people we saw on TV were maids, nannies, and Buffon’s; you know the subservient type of “colors” white folks liked so much. This show was a comedy, but these black folks lived like whites – professionals and owned businesses.

However, the NAACP and others decried the show, protested and had it removed from the airways. It is worth mentioning that at the time white folk still dressed in black face until the 1950s, yet the NAACP had no problem with those performances and images! I have spoken about the NAACP and consider them not much better than Messy Jessie and Brother Al. I have asked, and nobody can answer the question; what significant thing has the group done for black people? Other than keep black people passive and quiet!

Moving on: here is the back story of the show that might surprise you:

It was on this day in 1926 that a two-man blackface comedy series “Sam ‘n’ Henry” debuted on Chicago’s WGN radio station. Two years later, after changing its name to “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” the show became one of the most popular radio programs in American history. The show later became one of the first television series to depict black people as something other than maids and servants.

Though the creators and the stars of the radio show, Freeman Gosden, and Charles Carrell, were both white, the characters they played were two black men from the Deep South who moved to Chicago to seek their fortunes. Blackface performances by whites were normal for the time. This was the result of the famous Jim Crow character popular around the Civil War that white actors performed in the “blackface” tradition. Gosden and Carrell, both vaudeville performers, were doing a Chicago comedy act in blackface when an employee at the Chicago Tribune suggested they create a radio show.

When “Sam ‘n’ Henry” debuted, it became an immediate hit. In 1928, Gosden and Carrell took their act to a rival station, the Chicago Daily News’ WMAQ. When they discovered WGN owned the rights to their characters’ names, they simply changed the name. As their new contract gave Gosden and Carrell the right to syndicate the program, the popularity of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” soon exploded. Over the next 22 years, the show would become the highest-rated comedy in radio history, attracting more than 40 million listeners.

By 1951, when “Amos ‘n’ Andy” came to television, changing attitudes about race and concerns about racism had virtually wiped out the practice of blackface. With Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams took over for Gosden and Carrell, the show was the first TV series to feature an all-black cast and the only one of its kind for the next 20 years. This did not stop African American advocacy groups, and eventually the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, from criticizing both the radio and TV versions of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” for promoting racial stereotypes. These protests led to the TV show’s cancellation in 1953.

The final radio broadcast of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” aired on November 25, 1960. Fast forward to the trash we see depicting African Americans in television shows today. Was Amos ‘n’ Andy really a negative upon society? Imagery is very important and, in my opinion, the show should have been praised for showing a people long denied the spotlight represented as professionals in a time of segregation, i.e., separate but equal. The truth of the matter is that this show in large part contributed greatly to removing the horrible practice of “blackface”.

b

Could it have been that the society at large did not want the black people to think they could live the American dream? And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Black History: The Original Queen Of Comedy

2I love to resurrect the ghosts of the greats, particularly when it is about someone who opened doors and made a significant impact on the African American culture. So it pleases me to bestow the honor of this writing onto a veteran of the Chitlin Circuit of African-American vaudeville. This stand-up comedian was born Loretta Mary Aiken, who was known to us as Jackie “Moms” Mabley. However, we affectionately called her “Moms” and was billed as the Funniest Woman in the World.

Moms career began at age 14 and became a teenage runaway joining the Negro troupe of Henry Bowman and Tim Moore and, in a short time, became a success. She took her stage name, Jackie Mabley, from an early boyfriend, commenting to Ebony in a 1970s interview that he’d taken so much from her; it was the least she could do to take his name. Later she became known as “Moms” because she was indeed a “Mom” to many other comedians on the circuit in the 1950s and 1960s.

She came out as a lesbian at the age of twenty-seven, becoming one of the first triple-X rated comedians on the comedy circuit. Quick-witted and quick-tongued, Mabley’s unorthodox, self-assured routines as an outspoken grandma while wearing bag lady clothes with old-fashioned print dresses and floppy hats. She was a favorite with Black female audiences, particularly when she was lampooning the psychology of men. Her career spanned five decades, although white audiences did not know of her until the early 1960s.

During the 1920s and 1930s, she appeared in androgynous clothing (as she did in the film version of “The Emperor Jones” with Paul Robeson and recorded several of her early “lesbian stand-up” routines. Mabley was one of the top women doing stand-up in her heyday, eventually recording more than 20 albums of comedy routines. She appeared in movies, on television, and in clubs.

She made her New York City debut at Connie’s Inn in Harlem. In the 1960s, she became known to a wider white audience, playing places like Carnegie Hall and making a number of mainstream TV appearances. This is to include her multiple appearances when that CBS show was number one on television in the late 1960s, which introduced her to a whole new audience. At the height of her career, she was earning $10,000 a week.

One of her regular themes was a romantic interest in handsome young men rather than old “washed-up geezers”. She was able to get away with it courtesy of her stage persona, where she appeared as a toothless, bedraggled woman in a house dress and floppy hat. She also added the occasional satirical song to her jokes like her (completely serious and melancholy) cover version of “Abraham, Martin, and John” that hit #35 on the Hot 100 on 19 July 1969. At 75 years old, Moms Mabley became the oldest living person ever to have a US Top 40 hit.

All of the modern comedians own Moms a debt of gratitude for opening doors for them, particularly, women comedians! Moms, I loved you, and the world continues to miss you. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


Black History: Hitsville USA

2014-09-18_21-53-42_1Black History Month continues to be relevant mainly because “there is nothing close to the truth about black history taught in schools and sadly, in many cases, in the church or in the home. Music which a world all to itself and something everyone can relate.

Therefore, we cannot have a discussion about black history without including black music and the many greats who entertained us. None is more significant than Motown Records. It all began in a small building that became known to the world as Hitsville USA because of the vast number of hits and stars produced by Motown that changed that world.

If we were to begin way back in the cradle of civilization centuries ago it all began with the drum. When we were captured and brought to the so-called New World where we brought with us the rhythms that dictated our souls. It is a fact that African American people are responsible for creating the great music genres known as Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, and just about every musical sound we hear that directly speaks to our glorious past.

During the despicable era of slavery and segregation prior to the Civil Rights Movement the hallowing sounds of gospel music delivered an in-your-face sound that fed the souls of a people and that outlet produced some of the most timeless music ever created. Before I go further, let’s remember that it was Michael Jackson whose music video was the first black music to air on MTV just a short while ago.

This brings me to the historic and game-changing record label – Motown and its founder Mr. Barry Gordy. Let’s be honest, can you imagine a world without “The Motown Sound”? For many who don’t know or have forgotten, prior to Motown Records rarely did you see the face of an African American on the cover of an album or black music heard on mainstream radio. The music we enjoyed and others stole was called “Race Music.” As strange as seems it was segregated in the same way America was prior to 1960s when Motown was founded. Prior to Motown few black performers enjoyed anything close to crossover success. By the way, an album is what was used to play music before CD’s and MP3’s.

Motown was the first record label owned by an African American to primarily feature African-American artists and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as The Motown Sound, which was a style of soul music with a distinct influence and soul touching flavor. From its Hitsville U.S.A building on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan that served as Motown’s headquarters produced the most universally recognized stable of songwriters and performers of our time or any time.

From a tiny little basement studio we were introduced to Michael Jackson, the Supremes, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Miracles, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Four Tops, the Commodores, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Jr. Walker and the All Stars, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rick James, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Teena Marie, DeBarge, the Jackson Five, Martha and the Vandellas, the Marvelettes and Motown’s Funk Brothers studio band; just to name a few of the artists that graced our souls and touched our hearts making us proud.

Many of Motown’s best-known hits were written by Smokey Robinson, Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield and the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland who became major forces in the music industry. For example, it’s a known fact in the music industry that in order to get a number one hit song someone would have to write more than thirty songs. Holland-Dozier-Holland had a string of more than fifty hits in a row with some becoming number one with several different artists like the hit “I heard it through the Grapevine”. This is profound and will never happen again. No songwriter will ever achieve this feat – guaranteed.

Although Mr. Gordy sold Motown, and it’s now in the hands of others, its legacy resides in a very special place in my heart. I’m sure with you and millions around the world as well. So again I say, thank you, Motown for the music, the love, the magic, and the many great memories.

Lastly, to the legends who are no longer able to perform for us today – thank you for your contribution – Rest in Peace. My guess is that they are walking around heaven all day singing with gleeful harmony the same way as it touched our souls when they were with us in this earthly realm. It must make haven more glorious and wonderful than one could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

 


IMAGINE

QU601ImagineJohnLennonI can recall a song written by John Lennon, who in my opinion had a depth that few men dared to explore. He caused me to “Imagine”. When you do open your mind you can realize possibilities. A wise man once told me that faith is believing what is unseen to be true. I have always imagined that people could live in peace and the world could live as one. No pain, no sorry, no racism, and above all “study war no more”.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

And that’s my message and Thought Provoking Perspective…

http://johntwills.com

FaceBook @ John T. Wills
Like my FaceBook Page
Twitter @ John T. Wills


Resurrection

African American remains a nation of people living in a notion without a nationality. Some will say, America has a black president – how could that be? Well, this speaks to the institutions within the context of society that dictates the continuation of the system that exists within the country. It is because of this system, which has been in existence from the founding of America that has caused the demise of people of color.

Let me speak to the concept of leadership according to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who wrote the powerful novel “The Mis-Education of the Negro” in 1933, or there about, challenged his readers to become empowered by doing for themselves.

He said: “Regardless of what we are taught history shows that it does not matter who is in power… those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning.” This speaks volumes.

I believe, if you can control a man is thinking you never have to worry about what he thinks. I will speak for me, no matter how messed up the world is and the minds of man; I am glad God made me! We must take responsibility for ourselves because life demands the survival of the fittest, just like in all other parts of the animal kingdom. As a people, African Americans have waited far too long and become much too dependent on those who are in charge of the system.

Therefore, I say it is time to remove the shackles of bondage that mentally remain in many communities and in the minds of man. Malcolm X once said, “We spend too much time singing and not enough time swinging”. Let me be clear, I did not repeat this statement to advocate violence. Rather to suggest that we have spent centuries believing, following, and listening to the messages communicated to us by those who control our destiny – making us believe that there is a better place for us when we are dead. I say we have a right to live NOW!

I want to propose an idea that could be the answer to our salvation. There is about 38 – 40 million African Americans living in America. If each person contributed one dollar per week; it would add up to forty million dollars. Multiply that time’s fifty-two weeks; that’s over two-trillion dollars annually. We have people who run some of the world’s largest corporations who could manage that money – invest it and make more money and as such many of the problems we face would go away.

Overtime we’ve won many civil rights battles, which should never have had to be fought as human beings. Yet, we still don’t have the necessities we need to survive. So I say, as tenacious beings, it is time for survival and the time is now – if for no other reason than for our children. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

Have you worn your hoodie lately?

http://johntwills.com

Legacy – A New Season 

AMAZON

Just a Season


Our Continued Existence

11

I have written thousands of articles and a few books with the intent to empower minds with the hope of enlightening the consciousness of mankind. For those who follow my words you know I firmly believe education is the single most important ingredient necessary to neutralize those forces that breed poverty and despair. It is the opposition to the system of survival that has been intent on making sure education is limited and poverty in considerable.

 It was the Englishman Francis Beacon, who is credited with being the first to record the phase “knowledge is power”. I am probably not as intelligent as he but I say “knowing what to do with that knowledge is where the power of your strength rest”.

I recently had what you might call an epiphany. I was being interviewed on a radio show for a segment called “For Women Only”. As the conversation progressed, we talked about Big Mamma, the community, the children, and African American issues. For clarity, most refer to their community as a “Hood”. What is a hood? A hood is something you “hide”. So, if “it takes a village”, we must empower the community, that have become non-existent or at least hidden, to rise from its designed despair.

After making that remark the host asked, “what happened to us and John, what can we do to make it right”. If I recall I responded with an answer, something like, it was televisions fault. While in my mind I was feeling the power of the question, which really gave me a chill thinking about the question. “What Happened?”

I will start with the first question, which is sure to be a Cosby moment for many. What happened was us? After the scam called integration, we began to believe we were accepted as equal citizens of these United States. For many African Americans, we forgot about one another partaking in the false reality of assimilation and followed white flight running from our communities. We allowed anyone to come into our community, setup shops, we stopped supporting our own businesses, and let our dollars, some say is nearly a trillion annually, go elsewhere. But the biggest problem was we STOPPED PARENTING!

The institutional aspects are systemic. The unemployment rate is double for blacks than for whites, we’ve lost more homes to foreclosure than whites and we’ve lost more wealth than whites”. To any reasonable person this is not equal! If we had listen to the great minds like Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Dubois told us how to build our community. Marcus Garvey told us how to be self-sufficient and to take care of our own needs. Elijah Muhammad taught us how to carry ourselves with dignity and respect. Dr. King gave us faith and Brother Malcolm told us to do it by “Any Means Necessary!

With that said, I have been troubled, as I am sure many of you as well and struggled with the second question, which was what do we do. We are the most religious people on earth; we marched, prayed, and wait for Jesus to come to our rescue.  I hope you feel my passion here, as tears flow, and it hurts to say this but the problem rests with the person you look at each day in the mirror.

People we are still in slavery, mentally, slaves to our debt, and in slaved within the jails and prisons systems. Now, Ray Charles can see – through death and imprisonment we are becoming extinct! Add to that black women have forgotten and in many cases have no desire for black men as the image of her man has been destroyed. The reality is this: if there are no black men to procreate – we all die!

Maybe the answer to the second question is to be the people we were created to be and when you look in the mirror each day; ask yourself what have you done to benefit someone or the world. You have a choice to live or die, yet more important to continue the species. If not now “when”? If not “YOU”, then who! Well I’ll tell you – “us”! Why, because we are the keepers of the faith.

Therefore, we can change the world but first we must change ourselves! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

Media Kit

FaceBook  John T. Wills
Like my FaceBook Page
Twitter @ John T. Wills
 

Young Gun Down

11The most amazing thing happened Tuesday night that marked the first time since 1899 that the House majority leader was defeated in a primary election; and badly I might add. The prevailing wisdom, at least according to the winner, Cantor was too liberal. Fact of the matter, Cantor should be ashamed of his twelve year tenure because he did nothing and was part of the worst congress in the country’s history, commonly known as “the Do Nothing Congress”.

You proclaimed himself one of the “Young Guns” of the Republican Party, which is nothing more than a code-word for the “New Jim Crow”. This guy was in line to be the next Speaker of the House when John Boehner decided he was tired of herding the opposition. The majority leader was the number two man in congress and the third most powerful republican in Washington. He was also an Arden voice against the president, yet he called himself a patriot.

His loss was devastating and a humiliating defeat. It was sweet vindication that the Republican strategy of stoking up faux-populism of just saying no and never proposing a solution to any problem has blown up spectacularly. Because in their gorgeously gerrymandered districts, their own voters felt things like shouting down the government didn’t go far enough. They said; government is the problem to which I would agree because it was Cantor and folks like that is the problem.

Moving on; the problem as I see it, if Cantor was too liberal – what do you think the guy who beat him to take his place will be like. The endpoint of this insane ideology is the election of a Tea Partiers that if like the rest are not interested in governing at all. Rather dismantling government. It is the mission of the institutional Republicans to gamble that obstructionism alone would give them power are seeing their fortunes turn, and their majority become meaningless.

They simple don’t want any government action on any issue. They want the current trend to continue to allow states rights to be the objective where individual municipalities push forward minimum wage laws because the federal government is paralyzed. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the poor widens every day, and Republicans have convinced many rural Americans that the problem is the tax rate on the wealthy. He also voted all of the fifty plus times to take healthcare away from American citizens.

We should be very skepticism of anything changing for the better. Cantor’s replacement will bring more of the same – nothing. But if college professor Dave Brat’s upset victory over the House majority leader indeed spells doom will certainly bring more of the same.

Here’s the irony. Cantor’s defeat had nothing to do with immigration, amnesty, or the border. It had everything to do with arrogance and the fact that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely – they realized like his cohorts simply did nothing, but leverage their positions to benefit themselves.

In an even more satisfying irony because Cantor was one of the greatest proponent of not cooperating with the administration on every piece of legislation proposed by the president. He, along with his compatriot Paul Ryan, instead has championed “broadening the tax base,” otherwise known as taxing the poor.

So overnight, he became a political dead man walking within hours of his defeat and resigned from his leadership position. So forgive me for having little joy in my heart, even if it means we get another Tea Partier in the House. For a bit, it feels as though there is some sense of justice for the left. No matter how much power you accumulate, your own monstrous sentiments can come back to bite you. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


The Godfather Of Rock and Roll

It is a great joy to share with you the glorious past of the ghost of the greats whose shoulders we stand that are dear to my heart. I am proud to share this article because I love the story of the crossroads. It is a story about the great Delta Blues-man Robert Johnson. The history of music is littered with tragic figures, and none was more tragic than Robert Johnson’s story.

This amazing, ultimate star-crossed musical genius laid the early framework of rock and roll decades before that term was even imagined. Robert Leroy Johnson is among the most famous of all the Delta Blues musicians whose landmark recordings from 1936-37 display a remarkable combination of singing, guitar skills, and tremendous songwriting talent that have influenced generations of musicians. Johnson’s shadowy, poorly documented life, and violent death at age 27 have given rise to much speculation adding to his legend.

He is considered by some to be the “Grandfather of Rock-and-Roll,” his vocal phrasing, original songs, and guitar style influenced a range of musicians, including Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Allman Brothers Band, The Rolling Stones, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Peter Gabriel, Neil Young, and Warren Zevon. Eric Clapton called Johnson “the most important blues musician who ever lived.

Johnson was conceived in an extramarital affair and born in Hazelhurst, Miss., in 1911. Most of his biographical details have been lost to history, but what’s known is that he learned guitar in his teens, got married, and had a girl who died in childbirth. The death led Johnson to throw himself even deeper into his music. He fled to Robinsonville, Miss., where he was influenced by early blues legends Son House and Willie Brown.

By 1933, Johnson remarried and began playing the guitar professionally. He once related the tale of selling his soul to the devil at a crossroads in exchange for his talent. Johnson tells the story in his song “Crossroads Blues.” Playing for tips up and down the Delta, Johnson gained in popularity. But as he grew in fame, he became a noted philanderer. He would also walk off in the middle of performances and not be seen or heard from for weeks at a time.

In 1936, he was put in contact with Columbia Records talent scout Ernie Oertle, who took him to San Antonio, Tex., where Johnson recorded classics including “Sweet Home Chicago,” “There’s A Hell Hound On My Trail,” and his signature “Terraplane Blues.”

Johnson began to tour nationally and became known for his unique voice and halting guitar rifts. But in 1938, as the legend goes, the devil caught up with him. While playing at a juke joint, he flirted with a woman whose husband became jealous, and the man laced Johnson’s whiskey with strychnine. Although he became violently ill, Johnson played until he collapsed. He died four days later at age 27, although conflicting stories say he survived the poisoning and died later of pneumonia.

There are at least two Mississippi gravesites that bear his name leaving questions about his passing and burial. “The reason that it’s so powerful a story is because it is the outline of the tragic side of the music that followed,” said music journalist Alan Light. “Some knew him as a musician, others by legend, but his shadow touches everyone who came out of that time and place.” I will say that Robert Johnson is truly a legend whose legacy will last forever. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

FaceBook @ John T. Wills


%d bloggers like this: