Calendar: September 24

A Year: Day to Day Men: 24th of September

Attention Caught

September 24, 1893 was the birthdate of American blues and gospel singer Lemon Henry Jefferson.

Born blind, Lemon Henry Jefferson, known as “Blind Lemon” Jefferson, started playing guitar in his early teens. In the early 1910s, he traveled to Dallas, where met and played with the blues musician Lead Belly. Jefferson was one of the earliest and most prominent figures in the blues movement that developed in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas. It was here he met Aaron Thibeaux Walker, also known as T-Bone Walker. Jefferson taught Walker the basics of playing blues guitar in exchange for Walker’s occasional service as a guide.

Jefferson’s music was uninhibited and represented the classic sounds of everyday life from street corner blues to honky-tonk and gospel. Prior to Jefferson, few artists had recorded solo voice and blues guitar; but he became a successful solo guitarist and male vocalist in the commercial recording world. Jefferson was taken to Chicago in late 1925 by Paramount Records to record his songs. The first releases under his name were “Booster Blues” and “Dry Southern Blues”, both hit songs. Two other songs from the same session “Got the Blues” and “Long Lonesome Blues” also became hits, with sales in the six figures.

Jefferson recorded about one hundred tracks with Paramount between 1926 and 1929: forty-three records were issued. His sound and confident musicianship appealed to his audiences. Jefferson never stayed with any one musical convention, varying his riffs and rhythm and singing complex and heartfelt lyrics exceptional for that period of time.

Mayo Williams, Paramount’s connection with the black community, moved in 1927 to Okeh Records and took Jefferson with him. Okeh Records quickly recorded and released Jefferson’s “Matchbox Blues” with his “Black Snake Moan” on the obverse of the record. Jefferson, because of contract obligations, returned to Paramount, who because “Matchbox Blues” had become such a hit, released two new versions of the same song. In 1927 Jefferson recorded another of his classics “See That My Grave iI Kept Clean”, under the name of Deacon LJ Bates. That song was so successful that it was re-recorded and released again in 1928.

Blind Lemon Jefferson died in Chicago on December 19, 1929 at the age of thirty-six. He was buried in an unmarked grave at the Wortham Black Cemetery in Freestone County, Texas. In 1967 a Texas historical marker was erected in the general area of his plot; the precise location is unknown. A new granite headstone was erected in 1997 with the inscription “Lord, it’s one kind favor I’ll ask of you, see that my grave is kept clean”. The cemetery’s name is now the Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery, maintained by a committee of citizens of Wortham.

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