ISHMAN BRACEY BIOGRAPHY
Ishmon Bracey (January 9, 1901 – February 12, 1970) was an American blues singer and guitarist from Mississippi, considered one of the most important early delta blues performers. With Tommy Johnson, he was the center of a small Jackson, Mississippi group of blues musicians in the 1920s. His name is incorrectly spelled “Ishman” on almost all of his records and in most older sources.
Bracey was born in Byram, Mississippi, and started playing at local dances and parties around 1917. He also worked as a waterboy on the Illinois Central Railroad. He first recorded in Memphis in 1928 for the Victor label, with Charlie McCoy on second guitar, recording two sessions in February and August that year. At that time his style had not fully formed and his performances varied considerably, probably in his attempts to become more commercially successful. Bracey’s blues “Saturday Blues” and “Left Alone Blues”, used interesting variations in the usual three line verse form. Bracey was one of the few Mississippi bluesmen who sang with a nasal tone without embellishment. In “Saturday Blues” he used one of the conventional infidelity themes, but he changed the form of the verses to fit a newer melodic concept. His lyrics loosen up enough to sing about skin creams and powder advertised as being able to lighten dark skin.
He recorded again in 1931 for Paramount Records with a group called the New Orleans Nehi Boys, which included guitarist Charles Taylor. Bracey’s total recorded output is only 16 songs, and original copies of his 78-rpm records are among the most valued items sought by blues collectors. “Trouble Hearted Blues” and “Left Alone Blues” are his best known songs.
He was an associate of Tommy Johnson, and the pair performed together in medicine shows in the 1930s. By the time he was “rediscovered” in the late 1950s, he had become a preacher and a performer of religious songs, and was uninterested in recording or discussing his time as a blues performer. However, he did help in the rediscovery of his contemporary Skip James.