International Guitar Month: Day 7 Memphis Minnie

Memphis Minnie

Memphis Minnie

Lizzie Douglas (June 3, 1897 – August 6, 1973), known as Memphis Minnie, was a blues guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter whose recording career lasted from the 1920s to the 1950s. She recorded around 200 songs, some of the best known being “Bumble Bee”, “Nothing in Rambling”, and “Me and My Chauffeur Blues”.

Her performances and songwriting made her well known in a genre dominated mostly by men.

Lizzie Douglas was born on June 3, 1897 in Algiers, Louisiana. She was the eldest of 13 siblings. Her parents Abe and Gertrude Douglas nicknamed her “Kid” during her early childhood. Her family called her “Kid” throughout her childhood because she never liked the name “Lizzie”, and when she first began performing she played under the name Kid Douglas.

When she was 7 she and her family moved to Walls, Mississippi, a town a little to the South of Memphis. The following year she received her first guitar for Christmas, and learned to play banjo by the age of 10 and guitar by the age of 11, when she started playing local parties.

In 1910, at the age of 13, she ran away from her home to live on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. She played on street corners for most of her teenage years, although she would periodically return to her family’s farm when she ran out of money. Her sidewalk performances led to a four-year tour of the South with the Ringling Brothers Circus from 1916 to 1920. Eventually she came back to Beale Street and got involved in the blues scene. At the time, women, whiskey, and cocaine were high in demand with the people and places she would be around. She made her money by playing guitar, singing, and prostitution, which was not uncommon at the time, since many female performers also worked as prostitutes because of financial desperation.

In 1929 she and Kansas Joe McCoy, her second husband, began to perform together. They were discovered by a talent scout of Columbia Records in front of a barber shop where they were playing for dimes. When she and McCoy went to record in New York, they were given the names Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie by a Columbia A&R man. In February 1930 they recorded the song “Bumble Bee,” this became one of Minnie’s most popular songs, and she eventually recorded five versions of it. Minnie and McCoy continued to record for Vocalion until August 1934, when they recorded a few sessions for Decca, with their last session together being for Decca in September. They divorced in 1935. She and McCoy introduced country blues to the urban environment and became very well known.

Bumble Bee

Later in the 1940s Minnie lived in Indianapolis, Indiana and Detroit, Michigan, returning to Chicago in the early 1950s. By the late 1940s, clubs began hiring younger and cheaper artists to play shows at their venues and Columbia began dropping Blues artists including Memphis Minnie.

Minnie continued to record into the 1950s, but her health began to become a problem for her. With public interest in her music declining, she retired from her musical career and in 1957 she and Lawlars returned to Memphis. Periodically, she would appear on Memphis radio stations to encourage young blues musicians.

If You See My Rooster

Me and My Chauffeur

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