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
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
"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
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
Jefferson was buried in the black cemetery at Wortham,
about 18 miles west of Fairfield
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.
All Things Historical
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.)