Brownie McGhee

Brownie McGhee

American blues musician
Date of Birth: 30.11.1915
Country: USA

Biography of Brownie McGhee

Born on November 30, 1915, in Knoxville, Tennessee, Brownie McGhee was an American blues musician. As a child, McGhee contracted polio, which left him with a limp. His father, Duff McGhee, was a musician, and young Brownie watched him play the guitar with great interest, absorbing every chord. In his school years, his father gifted him a guitar when he noticed his son's serious interest in music, particularly blues and gospel.

Brownie McGhee

By 1934, McGhee began playing in the "Golden Voices" gospel quartet, a group that his father also sang in. In 1937, he underwent an operation that greatly improved his mobility. By the end of the 1930s, he left his father's group and embarked on a journey, preferring the life of a wandering musician, traveling and performing concerts throughout the southern states.

Brownie McGhee

In the early 1940s, after several performances as a duo with a friend playing a washboard, McGhee met producer J.B. Long, who helped him sign a contract with the record company "Okeh/Columbia." Soon, his debut album with a dozen compositions was released. In 1941, Blind Boy Fuller, McGhee's idol and mentor, unexpectedly passed away from sepsis. Long, looking for a replacement, suggested that McGhee record a song on Fuller's guitar. "Death of Blind Boy Fuller," released by McGhee on the "Okeh" label, became a tribute to Blind Boy Fuller. It was thanks to this song and some of his early tracks, also released under "Okeh," that McGhee earned the nickname "Blind Boy Fuller No.2."

Brownie McGhee

During the recording of the third session for the "Okeh" studio, McGhee played with Sonny Terry, a harmonica player who had been blind since his teenage years. McGhee not only accompanied him but also acted as his guide. The duo soon moved to New York, where they quickly connected with other blues and folk musicians and worked with Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. In addition to numerous recordings with Terry, McGhee also opened his own "blues school," where he taught guitar lessons.

The post-war period was the most fruitful in Brownie McGhee's career. He recorded with Terry and many other musicians for a variety of studios, including "Savoy" ("Robbie Doby Boogie" in 1948 and "New Baseball Boogie" in 1949), "London," "Derby," and "Bobby Robinson's Red Robin." McGhee continuously changed pseudonyms to avoid contract problems with different labels. He performed under the names Blind Boy Williams, Big Tom Collins, and Spider Sam.

In the late 1950s, the duo of McGhee and Terry gained a predominantly white audience. Their extensive discography contributed to their growing popularity, and their tours were always in high demand. They became one of the first blues musicians to perform in Europe. Their main style was "folk-blues." In the early 1960s, McGhee and Terry also participated in every major blues festival.

Before the duo disbanded in the 1970s due to changes in Terry's voice and a rift in their relationship, Brownie McGhee appeared in several Broadway productions. He performed in Tennessee Williams's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," Langston Hughes's "Simply Heaven," as well as two movies and a television series.

Although each pursued a solo career, their duo remains highly respected in the blues genre. Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry left an indelible mark on the history of music as one of the longest-lasting and fruitful duos, and their influence spread to subsequent generations of blues masters.

Despite suffering from stomach cancer and being practically disabled, McGhee remained on stage almost until his death. His final performance took place in 1995 at the Chicago Blues Festival and gathered countless grateful fans.

McGhee passed away on February 23, 1996, in California. His departure was an irreplaceable loss for the blues world.