Big Bill Broonzy Profile:
Born: June 26, 1893 in Scott MS
Died: August 15, 1958 in Chicago IL
Perhaps more than any other artist, Big Bill Broonzy brought the blues to Chicago and helped define the city’s early sound. Born, literally, on the banks of the Mississippi River, Broonzy moved with his parents to Chicago as a teenager in 1920, picking up the guitar and learning to play from older bluesmen like Papa Charlie Jackson. Broonzy began recording in the mid-1920s and by the early-1930s he was a commanding figure on the Chicago blues scene.
The Early Chicago Sound
Capable of playing in both the older vaudeville styles (ragtime and hokum) and the newly-developing, more sophisticated Chicago style, Broonzy was a smooth vocalist, accomplished guitarist, and prolific songwriter. With its roots in the past, but looking towards the future, his music appealed to the growing numbers of African-American immigrants coming to Chicago from the south.
Broonzy began recording for Paramount in 1927, but it is was work for Bluebird Records during the 1930s, including playing behind talents like Tampa Red, Washboard Sam and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, that helped define the popular sound that was known as "The Bluebird Beat." In 1938, Broonzy performed at John Hammond's "Spirituals To Swing" concert as a last-minute replacement for Robert Johnson. The appearance opened his music up to an entirely new audience, winning him a small role in the film Swingin' The Dream alongside Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong.
The Real Folk Blues
"Big Bill" earned a reputation as a mentor to young blues artists just arriving in Chicago, helping them find jobs and housing. Muddy Waters was one such beneficiary of Broonzy's largesse, and he recorded an album of Broonzy's songs in 1960 in tribute to his friend.
When the post-war blues boom rendered Broonzy’s quaint homegrown style a thing of the past, he re-invented himself as a singer of authentic folk-blues and became one of the first blues artists to tour Europe, developing a new and appreciate following. Broonzy's biography, Big Bill Blues, was published in 1955, as told to Danish writer Yannick Bruynoghe.
Recommended Albums: The best of Broonzy’s early work can be found on The Young Big Bill Broonzy, but you can’t go wrong with just about any of the many collections of Broonzy’s music.