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On this date in 1930, Little Walter was born. He was an African American blues singer and harmonica player, one of the most influential harmonica improvisers of the late 20th century.
Born Marion Walter Jacobs in Marksville, Louisiana, he was raised on a farm. Little Walter began playing harmonica in childhood, and by the time he was 12 he was playing for a living on New Orleans street corners and in clubs. While he was still in his teens, he gradually worked northward, settling in Chicago about 1946; there he began recording in 1947, and played in Muddy Waters' blues band (1948-52). After Little Walter's 1952 harmonica solo "Juke" became a popular record, he successfully led his own bands in Chicago and on tours. In the 1960s, alcoholism curtailed his career, and he died following a street fight.
Little Walter was one of the major figures in postwar Chicago Blues. Influenced by guitarists as well as by senior harmonica players, he brought a singular variety of language to the blues harmonica. His solos were cleverly crafted, alternating riffs with flowing lines. He was a pioneer of playing a harmonica directly into a hand-held microphone and he developed expressive techniques to enhance his playing. Though his vocal range was small, his singing often emulated Waters' style.
His most popular recording was "My Babe," and his finest work included "Sad Hours," "Off the Wall," and "Can't Hold Out Much Longer." Little Walter died on Feb. 15, 1968, in Chicago, Ill.
Nothing But the Blues The Music and the Musicians
Edited by Lawrence Cohn
Copyright 1993 Abbeville Publishing Group, New York