Sonny Boy Williamson biography
Born: March 30, 1914, Jackson, Tennessee
Died: June 1, 1948, Chicago, Illinois
Also known as: John Lee Williamson
Sonny Boy Williamson’s innovative skill with the harmonica brought it to center stage as a lead instrument in Chicago blues. He also popularized the “call and response” performance technique with the instrument, delivering a vocal line, answering with his characteristically sharp harp riffs followed by another vocal delivery. Williamson acquired his nickname because of the young age at which he began performing; during those early years he traveled the South, sometimes in the company of his biggest influence, Sleepy John Estes, as well as Robert Nighthawk and others. In the late 1930s he moved to Chicago where he worked as a session player and became an influential and successful mainstay of the city’s blues scene as a performer and recording artist. He is credited with composing many original songs that became blues standards, especially for the harmonica, and he influenced a long line of superb harmonica players, including Junior Wells, Little Walter and Rice Miller, who was also known as Sonny Boy Williamson II.
Essential listening: “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” “Early in the Morning,” “Whiskey Headed Woman Blues,” “Shake that Boogie”