Jimmy Witherspoon biography
Born: August 8, 1923, Gurdon, Arkansas
Died: September 18, 1997, Los Angeles, California
Jimmy Witherspoon was both a blues and jazz singer during the mid-forties, and hugely influential in his ability to merge the two genres with his deep, full vocals. He was originally influenced by Big Joe Turner, to whom he is often compared. Witherspoon realized he had talent after sitting in with brilliant jazz pianist Teddy Weatherford’s big band while stationed overseas. Pianist and bandleader Jay McShann hired Witherspoon to take the place of lead vocalist Walter Brown in his band; during this stint Witherspoon developed his own vocal style. He began recording on his own in 1949, and had a big hit with his version of Bessie Smith’s hit “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.” The song not only reached number 1 on the R&B charts, but its stay on the charts was record-breaking. Witherspoon followed that up with a number 5 hit the same year, “In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down.” As rock and roll’s popularity increased, Witherspoon’s career took a downturn, and he focused more on jazz, always infusing it with a blues sensibility. He continued to perform until the end of his life, although he never repeated his early success.
Essential listening: “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” “In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down,” “Big Fine Girl,” “No Rollin’ Blues”