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Jessie Mae Hemphill

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Jessie Mae Hemphill (18th October 1934 – 22nd July 2006), was a pioneering electric guitarist, songwriter, and singer, specialising in the northern Mississippi country blues traditions of her family and regional heritage. She was born near Como and Senatobia, Mississippi, in northern Mississippi just east of the Mississippi Delta.

She began playing the guitar at the age of seven ,and also played drums in various local Mississippi fife and drum bands. The first field recordings of her work were made by blues researcher George Mitchell in 1967 and ethnomusicologist Dr David Evans in 1973 when she was known as Jessie Mae Brooks, using the surname from a brief early marriage, but the recordings were not released. In 1978, Evans went to Memphis to teach at Memphis State University (now University of Memphis). The school founded the High Water recording label in 1979 to promote interest in the indigenous music of the South. Evans made the first high-quality field recordings of Hemphill in that year, and soon afterwaeds produced her first sessions for the High Water label.

Hemphill then launched a recording career in the early 1980s, releasing singles produced by Evans on this university label, which later became a production company who licensed their masters to labels like HighTone and Inside Sounds. In 1981 her first full-length album, She-Wolf, was licensed from High Water and released on France’s Vogue Records.

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