No one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell

Blind Willie McTellSteve Kline Ages of Rock

May 5

1898: Blind Willie McTell is born William Samuel McTier in Thomson, Georgia. Born blind in one eye, he loses sight in the other eye by late childhood. He attends schools for the blind in Georgia and New York, showing proficiency in music — playing guitar and harmonica, writing music in Braille, and taking up the six-string guitar when he is in his teens. McTell records for different labels under different names throughout the 1920s and 30s. In 1940, he is recorded by folklorist John A. Lomax for the Library of Congress folk song archive. He remains active throughout the 1940s and 50s, playing on the streets of Atlanta, often with his longtime associate, Curley Weaver. McTell dies in 1959 after suffering for years from diabetes and alcoholism. McTell’s influence extends over a wide variety of artists, including The Allman Brothers Band, who famously cover McTell’s Statesboro Blues, and Bob Dylan, who pays tribute to McTell in his 1983 song Blind Willie McTell; the refrain of which is, “And I know no one can sing the blues, like Blind Willie McTell”.

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