Memphis Minnie Profile:
Born: June 3, 1897 in Algiers LA
Died: August 6, 1973 in Memphis TN
During the 1930s, blues music underwent a drastic sea change. Larger-than-life female vocalists like Bessie Smith and Ida Cox found themselves on the outside as male guitarists like Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red captured the public's imagination. Memphis Minnie, though, transcended this change in the public's musical tastes, as her powerful vocals commanded authority and her six-string skills rivaled and, in many cases, surpassed those of her male contemporaries.
Memphis Minnie's Bumble Bee
Born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana, Minnie moved with her family to a small Mississippi town just south of Memphis. By her early teens, she was playing banjo and guitar for tips in the streets of Memphis as "Kid Douglas." By the 1920s, Minnie was established as an artist in the Beale Street blues scene.
Discovered by Columbia Records, the label released "Bumble Bee" in 1929, the singer's first record as Memphis Minnie. A collaboration with her second husband, guitarist Kansas Joe McCoy, the song proved popular enough to finance a move to Chicago to further Minnie's career.
Cuttin' Heads In Chicago
No shrinking violet, Minnie won a guitar battle with two of Chicago's premiere talents, Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, earning the respect of both of artists. Establishing herself as a major presence in the Chicago blues scene, Minnie also earned a reputation as one tough cookie. Although she wore expensive dresses and a bracelet made of silver dollars, Minnie had come up through the ranks in rough Southern juke joints and never shied away from a fight.
It was the music of Memphis Minnie on which her legacy is built, however, and after hooking up with her third husband - Ernest "Little Son Joe" Lawlers - the pair recorded almost 200 sides together for labels like Vocalion, Bluebird, and Okeh during the 1930s and '40s. Minnie was one of the first blues artists to play an electric guitar, and her fusion of country and urban blues paved the way for artists like Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. When her health worsened during the mid-1950s, Minnie and Lawlers retired from performing and returned to Memphis.
Recommended Albums: The 20-song collection, Hoodoo Lady (1933-1937) features some of Minnie's best work and includes her collaborations with Joe McCoy, Blind John Davis, and others.