Blind Willie Johnson, born in Brenham, Texas in 1897, was a legendary bluesman and virtuoso of the “bottleneck” or slide guitar. Despite being blind from a young age, Johnson had aspirations to be a preacher and performed at Baptist Association meetings and churches around Marlin and nearby Hearne, Texas. Eventually, he settled in Beaumont and made his professional debut as a gospel artist. He recorded thirty songs for Columbia Records between 1927 and 1930, becoming known for his unique voice and original compositions that combined religious themes with the blues. Johnson’s influence on Texas bluesmen was immense, and his performances were said to incite riots due to their powerful nature.
Despite the Great Depression ending his celebrity career, Johnson continued to perform as a street singer until his death in 1945. He left behind a legacy of musical masterpieces, including “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” “God Don’t Never Change,” and “Dark was the Night (Cold was the Ground),” which was placed on board Voyager 1 in 1977 as a representative sampling of music on Earth. Johnson’s recordings were released by Sony/Legacy in 1993 on a double CD titled Complete Blind Willie Johnson. He was also recognized as a music legend in the Museum of the Gulf Coast’s Music Hall of Fame in Port Arthur. In 2010, a Texas Historical Marker was dedicated to him at Pilgrim’s Rest Baptist Church, and in 2020, a children’s book, Dark was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars, was published.