15 June 1880
17 January 1956 (aged 75)
Blind Alfred Reed (Floyd, Virginia, June 15, 1880 - Elgood, West Virginia, January 17, 1956) was an American folk and country musician. He was one of the artists who recorded at the Bristol Sessions in 1927, alongside more famous names such as Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family. He played the fiddle and his son, Arville, played the guitar.
Reed was born blind. He was raised in a very conservative family and acquired a violin at a young age. He began performing at county fairs, in country schoolhouses, for political rallies, and in churches. He even played on street corners for tips. He used to sell out printed copies of his compositions for ten cents.
While playing during a convention in 1927, Ralph Peer, who was the director of Bristol Sessions, heard Reed playing "The Wreck of the Virginian", and asked him if he wanted to make some recordings. Reed recorded four songs: one solo, "The Wreck of the Virginian" and three with Arville's guitar accompaniment: "I Mean to Live for Jesus", "You Must Unload", and "Walking in the Way with Jesus". After the Bristol Sessions, Reed kept recording until 1929, which was the year of his most famous song's release "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?".
After 1929, he stopped recording and lived out the rest of his life, mostly in the Princeton area of Mercer County, West Virginia. Reed continued to perform locally until 1937 when a statute was passed prohibiting blind street musicians.
In addition to being recording artist and a musician, he also served as a lay Methodist minister. In 1956, Reed died, reportedly of starvation. He is buried in Elgood, West Virginia.
Reed's lyrics, all of which he composed himself, were conservative but always were presented with a sense of humor. For example "Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls?" was an over-the-top commentary against women's hair style fashion of the 1920s, in which women who wore a shingle-bob were instructed to ask Jesus to forgive their hair style. More than half of the songs he recorded were either religious, political or spoke out against society's ills. Because of his social commentary, which was somewhat uncommon then, some people today consider Reed an early protest singer.
In 2007, Blind Alfred Reed was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. Also in 2007, a tribute album to Blind Alfred, named for one of his songs, was released. This album, "Always Lift Him Up: A Tribute to Blind Alfred Reed" features nineteen of Reed's most famous songs, recorded by artists from West Virginia, such as Little Jimmy Dickens, Tim O'Brien and Ann Magnuson.
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