Memphis Minnie

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Why June 3rd is BRILLIANT

Giving My Gravy Away

Today we are celebrating the birthday of Memphis Minnie who was born on this day in 1897. She was a blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. She learned to play banjo when she was ten and guitar at eleven. When she was thirteen she ran away from home and went to live on Beale Street in Memphis, which was packed with African American clubs, shops an restaurants. In 1916 she was spotted by Ringling Brothers Circus and spent the next four years touring the South with them. After that she returned the Memphis and became very involved in the blues scene there. Beale Street had a reputation as one of the best places in the country for female musicians to perform. There was also a lot of violence, a lot of cocaine and a lot of prostitution. It is very likely that Minnie worked as a prostitute to supplement her income any many of her songs reflect this. There’s one we really like called ‘I’m Selling My Pork Chops (But I’m Giving My Gravy Away)’.

As well as being a talented musician and songwriter she was a women who knew how to look after herself. Here’s what a fellow blues singer said about her: “Any men fool with her she’d go for them right away. She didn’t take no foolishness off them. Guitar, pocket knife, pistol, anything she get her hand on she’d use it”. Probably the best known anecdote about her comes from Big Bill Broonzy. He was involved in a ‘cutting contest’ with her in a Chicago nightclub. A cutting contest is a bit like a rap battle but in the 1930s with guitars. Minnie beat him to the prize which was a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of gin.

Minnie was massively influential in the Chicago blues scene and although she stopped performing in the 1950s she lived to see her reputation revived in the 1960s. She wrote a song called ‘If You See My Rooster’ which you might recognise. Also her ‘When The Levee Breaks’ was famously reworked by Led Zeppelin.

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