On September 24, 1893, outside of Coutchman, Texas, a small, blind African American child was born. He was the youngest of seven. The son of African American sharecroppers, in a deeply racist state, still grappling with the after-effects of the Civil War, he would grow up to become one, if not the most influential pioneers of the blues, musical acceptance, and equality for people with disabilities, and people of color. His name was Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Jefferson, who was blind since birth, began playing guitar in his early teens, soon after, his performance career was born. He started by playing at family functions and parties, then morphed into playing on the street. He frequented barber shops and street corners. Cousin to Blind Lemon, Alec Jefferson, said, “he’d start singing about eight and go until four in the morning.”
In the early 1910’s, Jefferson began traveling to Dallas on a regular basis. He would eventually meet another founding father of the blues, Lead Belly. As Blind Lemon began gaining more notoriety, he met more early blues titans such as T-Bone Walker. T-Bone Walker had not yet begun playing guitar, so Blind Lemon taught Walker some basics of blues guitar, and in exchange, Walker became a guide for Lemon around Dallas.
In the early 1920’s after becoming successful enough as a musician to support himself and possibly a wife and a child (it is not known for sure if he had a family) Blind Lemon began his recording career. He was the second blues musician to play guitar and sing at the same time on a record in history. His new, and unique sound that ranged from country honky-tonk style songs, to straight-down and dirty blues, made him extremely attractive. He became massively successful in a world dominated by big band jazz, and commercial recording.
Jefferson was soon picked up and signed by Paramount records, which became the leading recording company for blues musicians in the 1920’s. Jefferson continued to blow up, he was even the proud owner of a $700 car and an employer of a chauffeur, something that black people at the time almost never saw.
On December 19, 1929, Blind Lemon Jefferson died in Chicago at 10:00 a.m. His death certificate said the cause of death was “probably acute myocarditis”. Rumors exist to this day, that a jealous lover had poisoned his coffee, or that he was caught in a snowstorm, and had a heart attack. Some even say that he was attacked by a dog in the middle of the night and then died of a heart attack. Some even believed that he was robbed and killed by a guide looking to collect his large royalty payment.
Whatever the case may be, Blind Lemon Jefferson’s legacy is undeniable. He is the father of what is now known as Texas Blues. He made major strides in the deeply racist music industry so that others after him could succeed.