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Sonny Terry

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Greensboro NC, United States (1911 – 1986)

Saunders Terrell, better known as Sonny Terry (October 24, 1911-March 11, 1986), was a blues musician. He was born in Greensboro, North Carolina on October 24, 1911, and died on March 11, 1986 in Mineola, New York. He was most widely known for his energetic style which frequently included vocal whoops and hollers, and imitations of trains and fox hunts.

His father, a farmer, taught him to play basic blues harp as a youth. He sustained injuries to his eyes at a young age which eventually prevented him from doing farm work himself. In order to earn a living Sonny was now forced to play music. He began playing in Shelby, North Carolina. After his father died he began playing with Piedmont-style guitarist Blind Boy Fuller. When Fuller died, he established a long-standing musical relationship with Brownie McGhee, and the pair recorded numerous tracks together. The duo became well-known, even among white audiences, as they joined the growing folk movement of the 1950s and ’60s. This included collaborations with Woody Guthrie and Moses Asch, producing Folkways Records (now Smithsonian/Folkways) classic recordings.

In 1938 Sonny Terry was invited to play at Carnegie Hall for the first From Spirituals To Swing concert and later that year he recorded for the Library of Congress. In 1940 Sonny Terry recorded his first commercial sides.

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