Blind Lemon Jefferson was spotted by a talent scout in 1925. The day of discovery by Paramount Records was the beginning of his journey toward stardom. What was distinctive about Jefferson was his high-pitched voice and the originality of how he played the guitar.
He started playing the guitar in the formative years of his life. He was invited to play at many social events like parties, picnics and other gatherings. There are scanty details about his early years but historians believe that he may have taken inspiration from blues legends Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas and Texas Alexander. Both did a variety of blues and accompanying tunes.
Jefferson was born blind but it did not overshadow his gift to the world. He was born on September 24, 1893, in Coutchman, Texas. He had six siblings but he was the youngest. Jefferson’s parents were sharecroppers. His father was Alec while his mother was Clarissy Banks Jefferson.
His encounter with future blues legend Huddie Ledbetter in 1912 further shaped his zeal and passion. By then, Jefferson was performing in the Deep Ellum and central track areas of Dallas.
His popularity grew to the point where he became known as the Father of Texas Blues in the 1920s. He reigned the blues stage from 1926 to 1929. By the close of his career, he had recorded 110 sides, of which two were spirituals.
Some of his notable songs were “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”, Black Snake Moan”, and “Matchbox Blues”. Some music critics claim he helped make blues the go-to music for fans in the early 1900s. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1980.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was of the view that Jefferson’s “Matchbox Blues” was part of the 500 songs that polished the rock and roll genre of music. Jefferson in 1927 married Roberta Ransom who was ten years older than him.
He died on December 19, 1929, in Chicago, Illinois. It is not clear how Jefferson died. There are reports he may have had a heart attack while on the street and died of exposure. He was interred in the Wortham Negro cemetery. His grave remained unmarked for a long time until October 15, 1967, when some blues lovers traced the grave and placed a metal marker at the burial site.
In 1997, a blues festival was named after him in Wortham. In the same year, the metal marker on his grave was replaced with a granite headstone. The headstone had the inscriptions from one of his songs which read: “Lord, it’s one kind favor I’ll ask of you. See that my grave is kept clean.” City authorities renamed the cemetery in 2007 after him, calling it Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery.
Many musicians and artists have sampled his recordings and made innovative additions to them, sparking a fresh breath of life into Jefferson’s songs.