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Wed, 04.22.1891

Charley Patton, Blues Musician born

Charlie Patton

*The birth of Charley Patton is celebrated on this date in 1891.  He was a Black Delta blues musician.  

Patton was born in Hinds County, Mississippi, near the town of Edwards, and lived most of his life in Sunflower County, in the Mississippi Delta.  Though his parents were Bill and Annie Patton, locally, he was regarded as having been fathered by former Black slave Henderson Chatmon, several of whose children became popular Delta musicians, as solo performers, and as members of groups such as the Mississippi Sheiks.  

Patton was considered Black; it is now generally agreed that Patton was of mixed heritage, with white, Black, and Native ancestors.  In "Down the Dirt Road Blues," Patton sang of having gone to "the Nation" and "the Territo," referring to the Cherokee Nation's portion of the Indian Territory where several Black Indians tried unsuccessfully to claim a place on the tribal rolls and thereby obtain land.  

In 1897, his family moved to the Dockery Plantation, where Patton developed his musical style.  Patton performed at Dockery and nearby plantations and began associating with Willie Brown. Tommy Johnson, Fiddlin' Joe Martin, Robert Johnson, and Howlin' Wolf.  He was popular across the southern United States and performed annually in Chicago; in 1934, he performed in New York City. Unlike most blues musicians of his time, who were often itinerant performers, Patton played scheduled engagements at plantations and taverns. He gained popularity for his showmanship, sometimes playing with the guitar down on his knees, behind his head, or his back. Patton was a small man, about 5 feet 5 inches tall, but his gravelly voice was reputed to have been loud enough to carry 500 yards without amplification.

Patton settled in Holly Ridge, Mississippi, with his common-law wife and recording partner, Bertha Lee, in 1933. His relationship with Bertha Lee was a turbulent one. In early 1934, both were jailed in a Belzoni, Mississippi, jailhouse after a particularly harsh fight.  W. R. Calaway from Vocalion Records bailed the pair out of jail and escorted them to New York City for Patton's final recording sessions (on January 30 and February 1). They returned to Holly Ridge, and Lee saw Patton in his final days.  Charley Patton died on the Heathman-Dedham plantation, near Indianola, on April 28, 1934, and is buried in Holly Ridge (both towns are located in Sunflower County).

His death certificate states that he died of a mitral valve disorder.  The death certificate does not mention Bertha Lee; the only informant listed is Willie Calvin.  Patton's death was not reported in the newspapers. In July 1990, a memorial headstone was erected on Patton's grave, paid for by musician John Fogerty through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund.  Considered by many to be the "Father of the Delta Blues," he created an enduring body of American music and inspired most Delta blues musicians. 

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