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*On this date in 1902, Son House was born. He was a Black blues musician.
Born in Riverton, Mississippi on a Delta plantation, early on he took up with the church and actually became a Baptist pastor by the time he turned twenty. But he straddled the sacred and secular worlds, which led to troubles with women and alcohol. He had also discovered the power of the blues. After spending time in Louisiana in the early 1920s, House returned to the Delta in 1926 and learned how to play guitar.
He worked local juke joints and house parties until 1928, when he shot and killed a man, allegedly in self-defense. House was sent to Parchman Farm, an infamous Mississippi penitentiary, that year. A year later, a judge reexamined his case and ordered him released from prison. House left Clarksdale for Lula, Mississippi, where he met Charley Patton and Willie Brown. He performed and traveled with them to Grafton, Wisconsin, where, in 1930, all three blues guitarists recorded sides for the Paramount label. One of the songs House recorded, Preachin’ The Blues, was a powerful, personalized account of how the blues stole his soul away from the Baptist church. House continued to perform on occasion with Patton and Brown until Patton’s death in 1934. For the remainder of his time in Mississippi, House worked jukes and dances with Brown and as a solo artist.
In 1941, Alan Lomax recorded Son House for the Library of Congress. Lomax returned to Mississippi in 1942 and recorded House a second time. The following year House moved to Rochester, New York, and simply disappeared from the blues scene until 1964. Hailed as the greatest surviving original Delta bluesman, House became a hero to the young, white, folk-blues crowd of the early ‘60s. He performed at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival; a year later House played Carnegie Hall and signed a recording contract with CBS Records. His album Father of the Folk Blues (later renamed Death Letter) was a critical success and led to appearances at many of the major folk and blues festivals in the U.S. and Europe. In 1969 he was the subject of a blues documentary, called simply Son House. A major blues figure, Son House was one of the originators of the Mississippi Delta blues style.
Along with Patton and Brown, House defined early Delta blues in the late 1920s and 1930s with his irregular furious guitar work and his intensely emotional vocals. So profound was House’s blues style that he was the main influence of bluesman Robert Johnson as well as Muddy Waters. House sang and played his guitar with compelling urgency and conviction. His brand of the blues was streaked with both preacher passion and raw, manly desires, which seemed to turn many of his songs into battles between good and evil, sin and redemption. By 1971 House fell into ill health. Although he did perform at the occasional festival in the early 1970s, his blues career had come to end. In 1976 he moved to Detroit.
He was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1980. Son House died on October 19, 1988
Nothing But the Blues The Music and the Musicians
Edited by Lawrence Cohn
Copyright 1993 Abbeville Publishing Group, New York