Memphis Minnie: Wikis


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Memphis Minnie

Portrait (ca. 1930) on Minnie's gravemarker
Background information
Birth name Lizzie Douglas
Born June 3, 1897(1897-06-03)
Origin Algiers, Louisiana, United States
Died August 6, 1973 (aged 76)
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Genres Blues
Occupations Guitarist, vocalist, songwriter
Instruments Guitar, electric guitar, bass, banjo, drums
Years active 1920s – 1950s
Labels Okeh, Columbia, Vocalion, Decca, Bluebird, Checker, JOB

Memphis Minnie (June 3, 1897 – August 6, 1973[1]) was an American blues guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. She was the only female blues artist who matched her male contemporaries as both a singer and an instrumentalist.[2]



Born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana, Minnie was one of the most influential and pioneering female blues musicians and guitarists of all time.[1] She recorded for forty years, almost unheard of for any woman in show business at the time and unique among female blues artists. A flamboyant character who wore bracelets made of silver dollars, she was the biggest female blues singer from the early Depression years through World War II. One of the first blues artists to take up the electric guitar, in 1942, she combined her Louisiana-country roots with Memphis blues to produce her own unique country-blues sound; along with Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, she took country blues into electric urban blues, paving the way for Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, and Jimmy Rogers to travel from the small towns of the south to the big cities of the north.

She was married three times, and each husband was an accomplished blues guitarist: Kansas Joe McCoy later of the Harlem Hamfats, Casey Bill Weldon of the Memphis Jug Band, and Ernest "Little Son Joe" Lawlers.[1] Paul and Beth Garon's 1992 biography on Memphis Minnie, Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues, makes no mention of a marriage to Weldon, but only says that she recorded two sides with him, in November 1935, for Bluebird Records. It does describe the relationships and marriages to McCoy and Lawlers.[3]

After learning to play guitar and banjo as a child, she ran away from home at the age of thirteen. She travelled to Memphis, Tennessee, playing guitar in nightclubs and on the street as Lizzie "Kid" Douglas. The next year, she joined the Ringling Brothers circus. Her marriage and recording debut came in 1929, to and with Kansas Joe McCoy, when a Columbia Records talent scout heard them playing in a Beale Street barbershop in their distinctive 'Memphis style,' and their song "Bumble Bee" became a hit.[4] In the 1930s she moved to Chicago, Illinois with McCoy. She and McCoy broke up in 1935, and by 1939 she was with Little Son Joe Lawlers, with whom she recorded nearly 200 records.[2] In the 1940s she formed a touring vaudeville company. Some of her most potent and enduring work was made in the early 1940s, such as "Nothing in Rambling," "In My Girlish Days," "Looking The World Over" and "Me and My Chauffeur Blues".[2]

Later in the 1940s Minnie lived in Indianapolis, Indiana and Detroit, Michigan, returning to Chicago in the early 1950s.[2] From the 1950s on, however, public interest in her music declined, and in 1957 she and Lawlers returned to Memphis. Lawlers died in 1961.[5]


Memphis Minnie's grave (2008)

After her health began to fail in the mid 1950s, Minnie returned to Memphis and retired from performing and recording. She spent her twilight years in a nursing home, where she died of a stroke in 1973 in Memphis, Tennessee.[6] She is buried at the New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Walls, DeSoto County, Mississippi. A headstone paid for by Bonnie Raitt was erected by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund on 13 October 1996 with 35 family members in attendance including her sister, numerous nieces and nephews. The ceremony was taped for broadcast by the BBC. Laverne Baker was one of those nieces. Her headstone is marked:

Lizzie "Kid" Douglas Lawlers
aka Memphis Minnie

The inscription on the back of her gravestone reads:

"The hundreds of sides Minnie recorded are the perfect material to teach us about the blues. For the blues are at once general, and particular, speaking for millions, but in a highly singular, individual voice. Listening to Minnie's songs we hear her fantasies, her dreams, her desires, but we will hear them as if they were our own."[7]

Selective discography

Year Title Genre Label Songs
1988 I Ain't No Bad Gal Blues Portrait "You Need A Friend", "Can't Afford To Loose My Man", "Me and My Chauffeur Blues", "Looking The World Over", and more
1997 Me & My Chauffeur 1935–1946 with Little Son Joe Blues Epm Musique "Hoodoo Lady", "Hot Stuff", "My And My Chauffeur Blues", "My Baby Don't Want Me No More", and more
2000 Pickin' the Blues with Kansas Joe McCoy Blues Culture Press "Bumble Bee", "When The Levee Breaks", "Joe Louis Strut", "Crazy Cryin' Blues", "Picking The Blues", "Ma Rainey", and more


Minnie lived to see her reputation revive in the 1960s as part of the general revival of interest in the blues. In 1980, she was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame.[8]


"When the Levee Breaks", a 1929 Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy song,[9] was later covered (with slightly altered lyrics and a different melody) by Led Zeppelin and released in 1971 on their fourth album. The same song was used by Bob Dylan for his song "The Levee's Gonna Break", on the 2006 album Modern Times. The band "A Perfect Circle" remixed the song for their covers album "eMotive" in 2004.

"When the Levee Breaks" was played in the movie Ghost World, and Minnie was mentioned several times throughout the film.

Other songs by Memphis Minnie include: "Bumble Bee Blues", "Hoodoo Lady", "I'm Gonna Bake My Biscuit" and "I Want Something For You".


  1. ^ a b c "Memphis Minnie". allmusic. Retrieved July 31, 2007.  
  2. ^ a b c d Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues - From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. pp. 103–104. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.  
  3. ^ Garon, Paul, and Beth Garon, (1992). Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues. New York, New York: Da Capo Press. - pp.24,39,&45. - ISBN 0306804603
  4. ^ Garon, - p.25.
  5. ^ "Memphis Minnie". Retrieved 2006-10-23.  
  6. ^ Santelli, Robert. The Big Book of Blues, Penguin Books, page 335, (2001) - ISBN 0141001453
  7. ^ Find a Grave: Memphis Minnie
  8. ^ "1980 Hall of Fame Inductees". The Blues Foundation. Retrieved 2006-10-23.  
  9. ^ Marvin, Elizabeth West. Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz Since 1945: Essays and Analytical Studies, Boydell & Brewer, page 330, (1995) - ISBN 1580460968

External links

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