Mixtape Alert | History of Black Female Guitarists | Don’t Dance Her Down Boys

Sometimes I forget that some people don’t know the full impact that black women had on rock n roll. If you didn’t know it was epic. Without the talent and energy of many wonderful women the state of music today would be blander than Cliff Richard eating a cucumber sandwich.

Read More: Mixtape Alert | History of Black Female Guitarists | Don’t Dance Her Down Boys

Woman with Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues

Universally recognized as one of the greatest blues artists, Memphis Minnie (1897-1973) wrote and recorded hundreds of songs. Blues people as diverse as Muddy Waters, Johnny Shines, Big Mama Thornton, and Chuck Berry have acknowledged her as a major influence. At a time when most female vocalists sang Tin Pan Alley material, Minnie wrote her own lyrics and accompanied her singing with virtuoso guitar playing. Thanks to her merciless imagination and dark humor, her songs rank among the most vigorous and challenging popular poetry in any language.

“Woman with Guitar” is the first full-length study of the life and work of this extraordinary free spirit, focusing on the lively interplay between Minnie’s evolving artistry and the African American community in which she lived and worked. Drawing on folklore, psychoanalysis, critical theory, women’s studies, and surrealism, the authors’ explorations of Minnie’s songs illuminate the poetics of popular culture as well as the largely hidden history of working-class women’s self-emancipation.

(via Woman with Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues (Paperback) | Charis Books & More and Charis Circle)

Memphis Minnie – Biography by Barry Lee Pearson

“Tracking down the ultimate woman blues guitar hero is problematic because woman blues singers seldom recorded as guitar players and woman guitar players (such as Rosetta Tharpe and Sister O.M. Terrell) were seldom recorded playing blues. Excluding contemporary artists, the most notable exception to this pattern was Memphis Minnie. The most popular and prolific blueswoman outside the vaudeville tradition, she earned the respect of critics, the support of record-buying fans, and the unqualified praise of the blues artists she worked with throughout her long career. Despite her Southern roots and popularity, she was as much a Chicago blues artist as anyone in her day. Big Bill Broonzy recalls her beating both him and Tampa Red in a guitar contest and claims she was the best woman guitarist he had ever heard.”

Read more at Memphis Minnie | Biography & History | AllMusic

Memphis Minnie


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.

Memphis Minnie


Happy Birthday Lizzie Douglas, known as Memphis Minnie!

(June 3, 1897 – August 6, 1973)

From our stacks: Cover of Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues.  Paul and Beth Garon. New York: Da Capo Press, 1992.

Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy – “When The Levee Breaks” (Original)


TODAY IN MUSIC – June 3, 2015

“Memphis Minnie” has been called the Queen of the Blues. She was born Lizzie Douglas on June 3, 1897, in Algiers, LA, the first of 13 children, and at the age of 13 she ran away from the family home in Walls, MS, to Beale Street in Memphis. Ultimately she recorded around 200 songs, but her best known is probably the one Led Zeppelin made famous. “When the Levee Breaks” was written by Minnie and her husband Kansas Joe McCoy in 1929 in reaction to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Minnie died on August 6, 1973 and is buried in Walls. Here’s the song combined with slideshow photos of the flood that inspired it (posted by youtube user alchemy920). Enjoy!

Memphis Minnie – “When The Levee Breaks”


When The Levee Breaks, 1929. Led Zep’s version probably outnumbers this Kansas Joe McCoy & Memphis Minnie original by at least twenty to one on tumblr. It’s one of many Zep “borrowed” from old blues masters as they made their name in the 60s and 70s. Jimmy Page blamed Robert Plant for not reworking the lyrics, telling Guitar World in 1993 that Plant had thus caused the band “grief” with lawsuits, saying his guitar work was too original to be “nailed” on, but with many of the old blues song lyrics basically unchanged, that wasn’t the case with the words. Personally, I like both versions of this song—Memphis Minnie’s guitar work is great, as is Jimmy Page’s—although in some instances (i.e. “Bring It On Home”) I definitely prefer the old to the new.

Memphis MinnieWhen The Levee Breaks

Memphis Minnie


CultureSOUL: Memphis Minnie & husband Kansas Joe McCoy

Two phenomenal blues musicians of the Great Migration era c. 1930.

Memphis Minnie


“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”-Johnny Shines about Minnie’s personality.