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Mose John Allison Jr. was born outside Tippo, Mississippi, on his grandfather's farm, known as the Island "because Tippo Bayou encircles it." He took piano lessons at 5, picked cotton, played piano in grammar and trumpet in high school, and wrote his first song at 13.
Allison attended the University of Mississippi for a while and then enlisted in the U.S. Army for two years. Shortly after mustering out, he enrolled at Louisiana State University (L.S.U.), from which he graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a minor in philosophy. Mose married his wife, Audre, in 1949. They lived in Smithtown, New York, on Long Island, where they raised four children, including a daughter, Amy, a musician.
Allison nurtured his style by interacting with and listening to black blues players in his Mississippi community. Some were Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Bukka White, and Charley Patton. Allison helped open the "blues' racial divide, proving that a white man from rural Mississippi could interpret a traditionally black genre."
The effort proved difficult, which he described in the lyrics of "Ever Since I Stole the Blues," one of his most famous songs: "Well the blues police from down in Dixieland / Tried to catch me with the goods on hand / Ever since the white boy stole the blues." During a telephone interview, Allison said, “Growing up in an area where there are more blacks than whites, you get familiar with black culture at an early age," I heard blues singing from the field workers and neighbors sitting on front porches; with their guitars."
Allison’s placement in AAREG is influenced by his intersectionality of America’s heritage of jazz and blues music and culture. He became notable for playing a unique mix of blues and modern jazz, singing, and playing the piano. After moving to New York in 1956, he worked primarily in jazz settings, playing with jazz musicians and producing numerous recordings. He is described as "one of the finest songwriters in 20th-century blues." His songs strongly depended on evoking moods with his individualistic, "quirky," and subtle ironic humor. His writing influence on R&B had well-known fans recording his songs, including Pete Townshend, who recorded his "Young Man Blues" for the Who's Live at Leeds album in 1970.
He and John Mayall were some of the dozens who recorded Bukka White's classic, "Parchman Farm." Others who recorded his songs included Leon Russell ("I'm Smashed") and Bonnie Raitt ("Everybody's Crying Mercy"). The 1980s saw increased popularity, with new fans drawn to his unique blend of modern jazz. In the 1990s, he began recording more consistently. The Pixies wrote the song "Allison" as a tribute. Allison was said to have been a social critic before Bob Dylan and a music satirist before Randy Newman. Allison received 3 Grammy nominations: 1983 and 1988 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male, and 2001 for Best Jazz Vocal Album. In 2013, Allison was awarded the NEA Jazzmasters Award at Lincoln Center.
Allison's music influenced artists such as Jimi Hendrix, J. J. Cale, the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, and Pete Townshend. He was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006. Allison received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from L.S.U. in 2008. He had strong views about the domination of money over everything, the growing lack of empathy on the part of the powers- that be for the population, wars and more wars, underlying hypocrisy in society, and the arrogance of colonizers of the Americas.
Audre Allison said when she first met Mose, "I could tell that he was someone who generated his own joy." She also said, "Mose has always paid attention to what is happening in the world and has always read voraciously both past and present histories." Mose Allison died November 15, 2016, four days after his 89th birthday, at his home in Hilton Head, South Carolina.