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Rev. Gary Davis (aka Blind Gary Davis & Reverend Gary Davis & Reverend Blind Gary Davis) – 30 Apr 1896 to 5 May 1972, was an African American blues & gospel singer, as well as a renowned guitarist. His unique finger-picking style was influential on many subsequent artists and his students in New York City included Jorma Kaukonen (of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna), Stefan Grossman, Roy Book Binder, Woody Mann, and Ernie Hawkins. His musical influence, extends from the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan to Keb Mo, Olabelle and Resurrection Band.

Born in Laurens, South Carolina, Davis became blind at a very young age. He took to the guitar and assumed a unique multi-voice style, playing not only ragtime and blues tunes, but also traditional and original tunes in four-part harmony. In the mid-1920s, he migrated to Durham, North Carolina, a major center for black culture at the time. While there, Davis collaborated with a number of other artists in the Piedmont blues scene including Blind Boy Fuller and Bull City Red. In 1935, a store manager with a reputation for supporting local artists introduced Davis (as well as Fuller and Red) to the American Record Company. The subsequent recording sessions marked the real beginning of Davis’ career. It was also during his time in Durham that Davis converted to Christianity; he would later become ordained as a Baptist minister. Following his conversion and especially his ordination, Davis began to express a preference for inspirational gospel music.

Rev. Gary Davis later career

In the 1940s, the blues scene in Durham began to decline and Davis migrated to New York City. By the 1960s, he had become known as the “Harlem Street Singer” and also acquired a reputation as the person to see if you wanted to learn to play guitar. The folk revival of the 1960s re-invigorated Davis’ career, culminating in an performance at the Newport Folk Festival and the recording by Peter, Paul and Mary of “Samson & Delilah.” Also known as “If I Had My Way,” it was originally a Blind Willie Johnson recording that Davis had popularized.