Born: November 30, 1915, Knoxville, Tennessee
Died: February 23, 1996, Oakland, California
Also known as: Walter McGhee
Brownie McGhee played blues guitar in a style that was heavily
influenced by Blind Boy Fuller, a
North Carolina native whose repertoire included a complicated finger
picking style characteristic of a regional genre known as Piedmont
blues. Early in his career, McGhee worked as a traveling performer. When
he made it to North Carolina he met Blind Boy Fuller and his manager,
J.B. Long, and it was Long who helped McGhee make his first recordings.
McGhee later moved to New York where he teamed up with harmonica player
Sonny Terry. With the help of legendary singer/songwriter
Lead Belly, McGhee and Terry became an
important part of the city's folk scene, working with such artists as
Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. As a duo they were enormously popular
performers and prolific recording artists for almost four decades.
McGhee also opened a music school in Harlem where he offered guitar
lessons. Both individually and in his partnership with
Sonny Terry, McGhee had a lasting
influence on both blues and folk. He was an accomplished and versatile
guitarist and vocalist whose mastery as a musician included R&B,
electric blues and vintage country blues, in addition to the Piedmont
style he helped preserve.
Essential listening: "Workingman's Blues," "Death of Blind Boy Fuller,"
"Living With the Blues"