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Frank Stokes

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Frank Stokes (January 1, 1888 – September 12, 1955) was a blues musician who is considered by many musicologists to be the father of the Memphis blues guitar style.

He was born in Shelby County, Tennessee, in South Memphis’ largest vicinity Whitehaven, located two miles north of the Mississippi line. He was raised by his stepfather in Tutwiler, Mississippi, after the death of his parents. Stokes learned to play guitar as a youth in Tutwiler, and, after 1895, in Hernando, Mississippi, which was home to such African American guitarists as Jim Jackson, Dan Sane, Elijah Avery (of Cannon’s Jug Stompers), and Robert Wilkins. By the turn of the century, at the age of 12, Stokes worked as a blacksmith, traveling the 25 miles to Memphis on the weekends to sing and play guitar with Dan Sane as The Beale Street Sheiks, with whom he developed a long-term musical partnership. Together, they busked on the streets and in Church’s Park (now W.C. Handy Park) on Memphis’ Beale Street.

Stokes developed an extremely powerful voice and a hard-driving, danceable guitar style playing on the streets of Memphis. He became well-known in the area for having an extraordinarily large and diverse repertoire, playing a variety of minstrel tunes, proto-blues, rags, breakdowns, parlor songs, post-bellum popular songs, old-timey country tunes and a variety of other archaic folk styles, as well as contemporary popular numbers. The breadth of his musical knowledge made him the embodiment of the rural black musical tradition up to the early twentieth century, and makes his recorded works a small window into the popular and folk styles of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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