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Sonny Boy Nelson


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Sonny Boy Nelson (December 23, 1908 – November 4, 1998) was an American blues musician. Nelson sang and played many instruments, including banjo, guitar, harmonica, horn, mandolin and violin.

He was born Eugene Powell, in Utica, Mississippi, United States, the child of an interracial affair and his white father soon abandoned the family. His family soon moved to a plantation at Lombardy, near Shelby, Mississippi. Nelson learned to play the guitar by the age of seven. Together with his half brother Ben on a mandolin, Nelson began to play as a novelty act at picnics and suppers, and for prisoners at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. In 1915, his half brother, Bennie “Sugar” Wilson, may have been the inspiration for Nelson to learn the banjo-mandolin. Nelson became friends with the Chatmon family (see Sam Chatmon), as both families worked together on the Kelly Drew Plantation in Hollandale, Mississippi. He later married fellow singer, Mississippi Matilda. Nelson’s guitar was a Silvertone and he inserted an aluminium resonator into it similar to those found on the National guitar. He also fitted a seventh string, using the 12 string models as his inspiration. The extra string was a ‘C’ an octave higher than the conventional string. Later electric styles overhadowed his fame, and he went on to live a quiet life until his death.
Nelson died in November 1998, in Greenville, Mississippi, at the age of 89.

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