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Blind Lemon

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
When folk singer Jeff Muldour recently appeared on a national radio program with a song about looking for Blind Lemon's grave, he struck a familiar chord in East Texas.

Born on the western fringes of East Texas in 1897, Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of our most famous blues musicians. It has been said that his music and distinctive vocal style influenced such greats as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Tommy Dorsey, Harris James and Bix Beiderbecke. He also encouraged Sam "Lightning" Hopkins when Hopkins was only an eight-year-old boy in Buffalo.

Muldour's song on National Public Radio's Prairie Home Companion was about a young musician who embarks on a journey from New Orleans to East Texas, looking for Blind Lemon's burial spot. He never finds it.


Blind Lemon was born in the Freestone County settlement of Coutchman, the blind son of Alec and Cassie Jefferson. He had no formal music education and instead traveled from place to place in Freestone and Limestone counties, playing his guitar and singing songs, most of which were his own compositions.

He later moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and became a well-known figure in the Deep Ellum district of Dallas. There, he met Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, and for a time they played in brothels throughout Texas .

Jefferson was discovered by a talent scout for Paramount Records while in Dallas and was lured to Chicago. He made 79 blues and jazz records for Paramount in the 1920s, each estimated to have sold 100,000 copies. He also made two recordings under he Okeh label.

Blind Lemon's songs included "Matchbox Blues" and "Black Snake Moan", both blues classics. He also recorded spirituals under the pseudonym Deacon L.J. Bates, and was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1980.

Recognized as one of the earliest representatives of the classic blues, he was considered one of the finest folk singers of his day.


Blind Lemon died of a heart attack during a Chicago snowstorm in 1929, but there was no death certificate and the exact date of his death is unknown.

Jefferson was buried in the black cemetery at Wortham, about 18 miles west of Fairfield in Freestone County. One of his best-known songs was "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean". The good folks of Freestone County have dutifully followed his wishes.
© Bob Bowman
All Things Historical
MARCH 25, 2001
Published by permission.
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Bob Bowman is a former president of the East Texas Historical Association and the author of 24 books on East Texas history and folklore.)

Blind Lemon Jefferson
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