Blind Blake

by Christin Avent and Joshua McDaniel, UNC Asheville students

 


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Publicity photo believed to be in public domain (c. 1927).

MP3 audio file: www.publicdomain4u.com/ html/blind_blake.htm

Full name: Arthur Phelps (a.k.a, Blind Blake)

Nicknames/Recorded Under: Blind Arthur Blake, Arthur Blind Blake, Arthur Blake, Gorgeous Weed, Billy James, Blind George Martin.

Born: Between 1890 and 1895 in either Jacksonville, FL or Georgia Sea Islands. (Birth date unconfirmed as well as birth place.)
Died: Between 1933-1940 in Jacksonville, FL. (Place of death as well as date of death are unconfirmed.)

Instrument: guitar (and vocals)

Biographical Sketch

Although, no clear date or location is specified for Blind Blake's birth and death, many believe that he was born between 1890 and 1895 in Jacksonville, FL or one of the Georgia Sea Islands and died between 1933-1940 in Jacksonville. None of this information has ever been confirmed. Reportedly, the artist had a son, but this is also unconfirmed. There is no information on the rest of his family.

Blake reportedly moved to Georgia in his late teens to early 20's where he worked as a street musician in towns throughout Georgia and other parts of the South. He hoboed extensively and worked as a wandering musician throughout Florida, Georgia, and Ohio performing at picnics, parties, on streets, and at suppers and fish fries in the early 1920s. Blake's first record was "Early Morning Blues" and "West Coast Blues" on Paramount. In 1927, Paramount published a sketchy biography of him in Book of Blues, which gives basis for Blake's Jacksonville upbringing. Samuel Charters points out in his book The Blues Makers that one of Blake's songs, "Southern Rag" recorded in 1927, provided basis for an alternate origin of Blake. In the song, Blake switches to a Geechee dialect that was common in the Georgia Sea Islands at one point. The use of this dialect suggests that Blake might have grown up there.

Blake was seen as a true legend in the recording business. He was so popular, Paramount released at least one, and sometimes numerous, new records under his name every month! When his record sales began to fall in 1929, he contacted a good friend of his, George Williams, who managed the vaudeville show Happy-Go-Lucky. Blake played with the show until late 1930 or 1931. Blake disappeared from the Chicago music scene in 1932. He traveled to Grafton, WI, in 1932 to record his last songs with Paramount before they went bankrupt. Between the summers of 1926 and 1932, he recorded roughly 80 titles for the Paramount label.

At the end of his life, several blues artists speculated his death and some outrageous rumors surfaced due to this. Bob Groom reported Blake wandered the South in the years between the wars spending time recording in Chicago. He was thought to be dead, but it seems that he actually returned to Atlanta when the Depression ended his career and was killed in a streetcar accident in 1941. Bill Williams reported Blake as a heavy drinker and recalled their Monday night "rehearsals" at Blake's apartment were helped along by moonshine. Williams assumed Blake died of alcohol related causes. Josh White saw him no more after 1930 and believed he was murdered in the streets of Chicago. Big Bill Broonzy thought he died about 1932 in Joliet within sight of the prison that featured his blues. Pianist Blind John Davis believed he died in St. Louis in the 1930s, as he had been told by Tampa Red of this. Gary Davis heard that he had been run over by a streetcar in New York City in 1934, but the city records do not show he died in New York City or Atlanta at that time. Blake was an extremely mysterious person. Little is really known about his life except for his music. Not even his birthplace or place of death is certain. The only thing certain is his recording career.

Books

Charters, Samuel. The Blues Makers. New York: Da Capo Press, 1991.

Mann, Woody, comp. Six Black Blues Guitarists. New York:  Oak Publications, 1973.

Kienzle, Richard. Great Guitarists! New York: Facts on File, 1985.

Grossman, Stefan. Ragtime Blues Guitarists. New York: Oak Publications, 1970.

Mann, Woody; Pickow, Peter. The Anthology of Blues Guitar. New York: Oak: Exclusive Distributors, Music Sales Corp., 1993.

Wyman, Bill, and Richard Havers. Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey. London; New York: DK Publishing, 2001.

Larkin, Colin. Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 2nd ed. New York: Stockton Press, 1995.

Harris, Sheldon. Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1979.

Hart, Mary L., Brenda M. Eagles, and Lisa N. Howorth. The Blues: A Bibliographical Guide. Intro. by William Ferris. New York: Garland, 1989.

Herzhaft, Gerard. Encyclopedia of The Blues. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1992.

Santelli, Robert. The Big Book of Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Stambler, Irwin, and Lydon Stambler. Folk and Blues: The Encyclopedia. New York: St. Martin's, 2001.

Bastin, Bruce. Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in The Southeast. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Cohn, Lawrence, et al. Nothing but the Blues: The Music and the Musicians. New York: Abbeville Press, 1993.

Stang, Aaron ed., designed by Ken Ream. Master of Country Blues Guitar: Blind Blake. Warner Brothers Publications, 1994: USA.

Articles

Pearson, Barry Lee. "Appalachian Blues." Black Music Research Journal 23 (Spring/Fall): 23-51.

Whitesel, Todd. "Blues Power-50 Blues Artists Who Matter." Goldmine 31:14:651 [8 July 2005]p. 19, 45-46, 61. Greg Loescher: USA.

James, Steve. "Of Paramount Importance." Acoustic Guitar 15:12:150 [June 2005]p. 64-76, 78. String Letter Publishing Inc: USA.

Hanson, Mark. "Blind Blake's "Diddie Wa Diddie." Guitar Player 24:4 [April 1990]p. 84-87.

Hinson, Mark. "Blues State-Contemplating the State of the Blues and the Blues in this State." Tallahassee Democrat. July 3, 2005.

James, Steve. "Diddie Wah Diddie":Words and Music by Blind Blake. Acoustic Guitar 15:12:180 [June 2005]p. 70-71. String Letter Publishing Inc: USA.

DeKoster, Jim. "Living Blues Reissue Reviews: Blind Lemon Jefferson", Blind Blake: "The Best of Blind Blake." Living Blues 32:2:156 [March-April 2001]p. 82. Center for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi: USA.

Obrecht, Jas. "Blind Blake." Guitar Player 29:10 [October 1995]p. 39-54. Miller Freeman Inc: USA.

"ENGLISH, IRISH, SCOTTISH TRADITIONS IN AMERICA: Blues Guitar Teach In: Blind Blake." Sing Out: The Folk Magazine 25:4 [1977]p.30.

Recordings on CD

Ragtime Blues Guitar Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, 1927-1930. Perf. Blind Blake, William Moore, Stephen Tarter, Harry Guy, Chicken Wilson, Skeeter Heaton, Bayless Rose, Willie Walker. Vienna, Austria: Document Records, 1991.

Blind Blake. Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order. Perf. Blind Blake, Irene Scruggs, Papa Charlie Jackson. Vienna, Austria: Document Records, 1991.

Blind Blake. Blind Blake Ragtime Guitar's Foremost Fingerpicker. Perf. Blind Blake, other artists. Newton, NJ: Yazoo, 1990.

Blind Blake. The Best of Blind Blake. Perf. Blind Blake, others. Newton, NJ: Yazoo, 2000.

Bussard, Joe; Wyatt, Marshall. Down in the Basement. Perf. Blind Blake, Charlie Spand, and others. Raleigh, NC: Old Hat, 2002.

Blind Blake; Blind Lemon Jefferson, and others. Hard Times Come Again No More, Early American Rural Songs of Hard Times and Hardships. [U.S.]: Yazoo, 1998.

Blind Blake. Complete Recorded Works. Vol. 1 (1926-1927) Newton, NJ: Yazoo, 1991.

Blind Blake. Complete Recorded Works. Vol. 2 (1927-1928) Newton, NJ: Yazoo, 1991.

Blind Blake. Complete Recorded Works. Vol. 3 (1928-1929) Newton, NJ: Yazoo, 1991.

Blind Blake. Complete Recorded Works. Vol. 4 (1929-1932) Newton, NJ: Yazoo, 1991.

Blind Blake. The Master of Ragtime Guitar: The Essential Recordings. Indigo, 1996.

Recordings on LP

Blind Blake; Underwood Sugar, and others. Maple Leaf Rag [ragtime in rural America]. New York: New World Records, 1976.

Web Sites

Allmusic. Accessed October 19, 2005. http://www.allmusic.com

"The King Of Ragtime Guitar: Blind Blake & His Piano-Sounding Guitar" by Jas Obrecht from Garlic: South Valley Internet. Accessed October 19, 2005. http://www.garlic.com/~tgracyk/blake1.htm

 

 


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Last updated 24 October 2005