Monday, June 12, 2017

Internet Article Excerpt - "Cryin' Blind: Situating the Blind Blues Musician in History" (with additional article excerpts & five YouTube videos)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides an excerpt from the 2010 internet article "Cryin' Blind: Situating the Blind Blues Musician in History" by Rachel Lee.

This post also presents excerpts from three other articles or internet blog posts about the high proportion of African American singers/musicians in the early to mid 20th century who were blind, particularly in the Blues music genre.

Five YouTube examples of African American Bluesmen who were blind are also showcased in this post.

The content of this post is historical, cultural, and aesthetic purposes.

Excerpts from online articles are featured on this blog as a means of publicizing those articles and sharing the information that is included in those articles. Pancocojams readers are encouraged to read those entire articles.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to all those who are featured in these YouTube examples, and thanks to the publishers of these two YouTube examples of this song.
Pancocojams Editor's Comment
This pancocojams post was inspired by my recent post about Blind Willie Johnson and my recent post about the Five Blind Boys Of Alabama. Those posts and other pancocojams posts about African American singers/musicians who are blind can be found by clicking the "African American singers and musicians who are blind" tag that is found below.

By at least the mid 20th century, it has been considered to be socially incorrect to use the word "blind" as a preface to someone's stage name because a person's disability shouldn't be use as his or her descriptor.

Also, by at least the mid 20th century it has been considered to be socially incorrect to use the word "boy" to refer to Black men (or any other men) in group names such as the Gospel singers "The Five Blind Boys of Alabama" and "The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi". Nevertheless, some blind recording artists continued/continue to use those names because their fans knew/know them by those names.

These excerpts are given in no particular order.

Excerpt #1:
From "Cryin' Blind: Situating the Blind Blues Musician in History" By Rachel Lee
May 2010
"Before World War II, the black population of the United States had a blindness rate five times that of its white counterpart.

The facts of their lives—including highly dangerous working conditions, social diseases spread by slum overcrowding and malnutrition—made them more susceptible to injuries and afflictions, and their general poverty and lack of health care access made it nearly impossible to receive the early treatment necessary to prevent blindness. While treatment and work opportunities for both black people and the blind have advanced over the years, there was a time when being a poor, blind black man meant having to sing for your supper.

That is why American culture is stamped with the iconic image of the blind blues musician.

From Blind Pig Records to the Blues Brothers, nothing quite screams blues louder than a pair of shades. Why do blind people wear sunglasses? Isn’t that about as useful as deaf people wearing ear plugs? The reasons for the shades are as myriad as the reasons for blindness. In some circumstances they're worn to hide eyes that have been disfigured. In other cases, bright light can be painful to the eyes. Many blind people have varying degrees of sight and though they may be legally defined as blind, they can make out shapes and colors.

W.C. Handy, named “The Father of the Blues,” described the musicians he saw around Clarksdale as “blind singers and footloose bards.” Handy himself went blind at the age of 30 due to an accidental fall from a subway platform in New York City."...
This article includes “a list (by no means definitive) of some of the more noted blind blues musicians.”
Here are three entries from that list:

"Blind Blake (born Arthur Blake)
Born: circa 1893 in Jacksonville, Florida
Died: circa 1933
Instrument: Guitar and vocals
Cause of blindness: Unknown as much of Blake’s life is shrouded in mystery
Recordings: About 80 tracks for Paramount between 1926 and 1932
Where: Worked as a wandering musician throughout Florida, Georgia, and Ohio performing at medicine shows, parties, on streets, and at suppers and fish fries in the early 1920s

Trivia: He is not to be confused with another Blind Blake, a popular singer from the 50’s from the Bahamas who recorded calypso music.

Achievements: He was one of the greatest guitarists of his era--his ragtime based guitar style was the prototype for the piedmont style blues. His complex and intricate finger picking inspired Reverend Gary Davis, Jorma Kaukonen, Ry Cooder, Ralph McTell, Leon Redbone and many others.

Rev. Gary Davis A.K.A Blind Gary Davis (born Gary Davis)
Born: April 30, 1896 in Laurens, South Carolina
Died: May 5, 1972
Instrument: Guitar and vocals
Cause of blindness: According to Davis: “I was taken blind when I was three weeks old. The doctor had something put in my eyes that was too strong and that was what caused me to go blind.”
Recordings: 1930s-1970s, America Record Company, Bluesville, Prestige, Folkways, Kicking Mule
Where: Carolinas and New York

Trivia: Jorma Kaukonen recorded his song “I'll Be Alright”
Broke his wrist as a teenager; the bones never set properly and may have inadvertently contributed to his unique guitar style
Developed a complex yet swinging approach to picking that has influenced generations of players, including Jerry Garcia, Dave Van Ronk, Jorma Kaukonen and Stefan Grossman

Blind Boy Fuller (born Fulton Allen)
Born: July 10, 1907 in Wadesboro, North Carolina
Died: February 13, 1941
Instrument: Guitar, steel guitar and vocals
Cause of blindness: Went blind in is teens either from ulcers behind his eyes due to snow blindness or an ex-girlfriend throwing chemicals in his face (there are multiple accounts)
Recordings: Around 120 songs ranging from ragtime to blues to novelty tunes for ARC and Decca
Where: Played on street corners and at house parties in Winston-Salem, Danville and then Durham, North Carolina

Trivia: Syd Barrett noticed the names of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council in the liner notes of a Blind Boy Fuller record, hence the name for his band Pink Floyd

Played slide, ragtime, pop, and blues
Several original compositions including "Lost Lover Blues" and "Step It Up and Go" have become standards of the Piedmont blues genre."...

Excerpt #2:
From What explains the high proportion of blind Blues musicians in the early 20th century?
Merin Thomas, The Sky is Crying
Updated May 1, 2013
"The history of blues and African-American music in general in the early 20th century is strewn with names like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Willie McTell. The reasons why such a high proportion of blind blues musicians flourished in this period are many.

The lives of African Americans after the turn of the 20th century was unbearably hard with few avenues for relief except gambling and drinking. The vast majority were still in the deep south, where they were still fighting the last vestiges of slavery. Work was hard to come by and usually involved manual labour in the fields. Almost invariably, their lives involved dangerous working conditions, social diseases spread by overcrowding and malnutrition and lack of access to healthcare didn't make things any easier. Hence, it was nearly impossible to receive the early treatment needed to treat blindness.

The introduction of prohibition in 1920 prompted the illegal production of moonshine. One of the by-products of distilling moonshine was methanol (or anti-freeze), which if ingested, caused blindness.

Those unfortunate enough to lose their sight couldn't work in the fields anymore, couldn't get decent healthcare if they were poor and having no other avenues for work, turned to music to earn their daily bread. They played at street corners, house parties, juke joints and labour camps, honing their craft in front of live audiences. And some of them got good. Real good. That is why today American culture is stamped with the iconic image of the blind blues musician."...

Excerpt #3:
..."Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Lemon Jefferson…in fact, just scroll down the Blues Hall of Fame list and every third musician seems to be preceded with the word “blind.”

In the jazz and soul worlds, there wasn’t anywhere near as many blind musicians. So why the disproportionate amount of unsighted bluesmen?

“Well, there were far more blind people back at the turn of the century when these blues artists were born,” says Brett Bonner, editor of Living Blues magazine. “Several diseases that were common — and often incurable — back then caused blindness: meningitis, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, high blood pressure, venereal disease. If the diseases were treatable, many rural poor simply couldn’t afford the doctor.”

Outside of the farmland, distilling spirits could also lead to blindness. If not performed correctly, the process could result in the production of methanol, rather than ethanol; and consumed in large qualities, it could shred the optic nerves.

Given how commonplace blindness was then, perhaps a better question to ask is — why did so many of these blind people become bluesmen?

“When you were a blind child in a poor family in the rural south,” says Bonner, “you were a burden to the family because you couldn’t work on the farm like everyone else. Playing music was something a blind child could learn to do and could, as he aged, perhaps make a living doing it. Since they had to earn their keep and there were so few other possibilities available, they simply became a bluesmen out of necessity.”

Some of the bluesmen which Bonner cites were the lucky ones, who despite their affliction, were able to forge successful recording careers. Blind Lemon Jefferson, for example, became the blues darling of Paramount Records; Blind John Davis gained a big European following after touring with Big Bill Bronzy, and Sonny Terry, a blind blues-cum-country singer, went on to star in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple.

But for the great many, day-to-day existence was tough, jostling to earn a nickel on filthy street corners, heckled and abused by a hostile, sectarian society and fighting a raging battle against disease and addiction. Every blind bluesman certainly had a tale to tell."...

Excerpt #4:
..."Though the idea of blind musicians may be even more prevalent than their actuality, it remains true that at many points in history and in many different cultures, blind musicians, individually or as a group, have made important contributions to the development of music. Some of these contributions are discussed below.


American country blues
Blind musicians have made a significant contribution to American popular music. This is particularly true in blues, gospel, jazz, and other predominantly African American forms – perhaps because discrimination at the time made it more difficult for black blind people to find other employment. In any case, the achievement of blind African-Americans in music is extensive. The first recorded gospel sanctified barrelhouse piano player, Arizona Dranes, was blind, as was Al Hibbler and Ray Charles, one of the most important figures in the creation of soul music. Art Tatum, commonly cited as the greatest jazz pianist of all time, was also almost blind. Stevie Wonder, who was blind from birth, has recorded more than thirty U.S. top ten hits and won twenty-two Grammy Awards[15] (the most ever won by a solo artist in history).

However, blind black musicians are still most strongly associated with the country blues. The first successful male country blues performer, Blind Lemon Jefferson was blind, as were many other country bluesmen, including Blind Willie McTell, Blind Willie Johnson, Sonny Terry, and Blind Boy Fuller. The figure of the black country bluesman became so iconic that when Eddie Lang, non-blind jazz guitarist, wanted to choose a black pseudonym for purposes of recording blues records with Lonnie Johnson, he naturally settled on Blind Willie Dunn.[16] Bogus Ben Covington was known for pretending to be blind.”...

These examples are given in no particular order.

Example #1: Blind Lemon Jefferson, "Jack of Diamonds"

TheLadyEmerald, Uploaded on Jul 19, 2011

Jack of Diamonds is a traditional folk song. It is a Texas gambling song that was popularised by Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1926.

Example #2: Blind Blake - Diddie Wa Diddie

Glenn Weiser Uploaded on Jan 18, 2009

Recorded by guitar whiz Blind Blake and later covered by Hot Tuna and Ry Cooder.

Example #3: Blind Willie McTell - Statesboro Blues

Raiwons Uploaded on Sep 11, 2009

...Nobody can sing the blues as Blind Willie McTell ' (1), this at least is what Bob Dylan sentences in the topic who dedicated this big bluesman and who helped to increase his legend. A legend that as it usually happens often did not start blowing up even after his death, especially immediately after that in 1959 Sam Charters was including in the album that was accompanying his famous book ' The Country Blues ' one of his topics, ' Statesboro blues ', which later would be taken to the reputation in 1968 by Taj Mahal on his disc of debut and especially in 1971 by Allman Brothers Band in his mythical double album ' Live at Fillmore East ' (2).

William Samuel McTell, better known as Blind Willie McTell (May 5, 1898 (sometimes reported as 1901 or 1903) August 19, 1959), was an influential American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He was a twelve-string finger picking Piedmont blues guitarist, and recorded 149 songs between 1927 and 1956.

" Writin' Paper Blues 1927"

Example #4: Nobody's Fault But Mine - Blind Willie Johnson

Taylor Darrow, Uploaded on Feb 28, 2012

Example #5: Truckin' My Blues Away - Blind Boy Fuller

Eric Cajundelyon, Published on Sep 24, 2012

Blind Boy Fuller (born Fulton Allen) (1907 - 1941) was an American blues guitarist and vocalist. He was one of the most popular of the recorded Piedmont blues artists with rural Black Americans, a group that also included Blind Blake, Josh White, and Buddy Moss. Enjoy and keep your blues away !!!

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