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Blind Willie McTell

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Blind Willie McTell (May 5, 1901 - August 15, 1959) was an influential singer and guitarist. He was born in Thomson, Georgia and died in Milledgeville, Georgia.

McTell was a twelve-string finger picking guitarist and singer who recorded from 1927 to 1955. One of his most famous songs, “Statesboro Blues” has been covered by many artists including Taj Mahal and The Allman Brothers Band. In 1983, Bob Dylan recorded a tribute song for McTell, using the folk melody of “St. James Infirmary Blues,” although the track went unreleased until 1991. In 1993, Dylan paid further tribute to McTell by recording McTell’s song “Broke Down Engine.”

Blind from late childhood and an adept reader of Braille, McTell showed an inherent proficiency in music from an early age and learned to play the six-string guitar as soon as he could. His father left the family when McTell was still young, so when his mother died in the 1920s, he left his hometown and became a wandering busker. He began his recording career in 1927 for Victor Records of Atlanta.

In the years before World War II, he recorded prodigiously, for a wide variety of labels under an equal variety of names, but his style was singular: a form of country blues, bridging the gap between the raw blues of the Mississippi Delta and the more refined Piedmont Blues sound. The style is well documented on Alan Lomax’s 1940 recordings of McTell for the Library of Congress. Post-war, he recorded briefly for Atlantic Records, but the recordings met with less commercial success than his previous works. He continued performing some live shows in his hometown of Atlanta, but his continued career was cut short by ill health, predominantly diabetes. In 1959, a year after the death of his wife of 24 years, he died of a stroke.

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