Personalities | Blind Willie McTell | Twenties | Jazz & Blues

(Vocals, guitar, 1901–59)

A skilled purveyor of the ragtime-influenced Piedmont fingerpicking style, Atlanta-based Blind Willie McTell incorporated pop songs and novelty numbers, as well as blues, into his repertoire – befitting an entertainer who got his start in tent shows, medicine shows and carnivals. His voice was unusually tender and expressive for a musician who made his living as a street singer, adding depth and poignancy to deftly crafted meditations on infatuation and loss like his now-standard ‘Statesboro Blues’.

His recording career extended (with some significant interruptions) from 1927–56 and his style remained the same throughout. His gift of conveying intense emotion through low-key, intimate vocals rather than flamboyant shouting – as well as his vivid lyric imagery and piano-like, contrapuntal picking artistry on both six- and 12-string guitars (he also played harmonica, accordion and fiddle) – have made him one of the most revered of the south-eastern acoustic blues artists.

Styles & Forms | Twenties | Jazz & Blues
Personalities | Memphis Jug Band | Twenties | Jazz & Blues

Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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