Aberdeen Mississippi Blues
In 1940 singer-guitarist Booker “Bukka” White, who lived in Aberdeen during the 1920s and ‘30s, recorded the blues classic “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues.” Twenty-three years later the song’s title enabled blues researchers to relocate White, who subsequently resumed his recording career. According to Social Security records two of the most influential blues artists of all time, Chester Arthur “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett and Albert King, claimed Aberdeen as their birthplace.
“Aberdeen Mississippi Blues” was one of many powerful and original blues songs recorded by Bukka White (c. 1904-1977) at his historic Chicago session in March 1940. White’s recording career might have ended then had not his music inspired new interest during the folk-blues boom of the 1960s. Relying on White’s recording for a possible address, guitarist and researcher John Fahey sent a postcard to “Bukka White, Old Blues Singer, c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Miss.” Remarkably, the card was forwarded to White, who was living in Memphis. He was soon recording again and was hailed as one of the finest performers among the older bluesmen whose careers were revived in the ‘60s. Born near Houston, White spent many of his early years performing and farming in Chickasaw, Monroe, and Tallahatchie counties, rambling in and out of the Aberdeen area, and marrying several local women in the process. After he shot a man at a nearby juke joint he was sentenced to Parchman Penitentiary in 1937. Already a recording artist, White found another opportunity to record when folklorist John Lomax arrived at Parchman in 1939 to collect songs for the Library of Congress. Some of White’s most memorable songs, including “Parchman Farm Blues,” “District Attorney Blues,” and “When Can I Change My Clothes,” were based on his trial and incarceration.
Chester Arthur Burnett, better known as Howlin’ Wolf, was another preeminent bluesman with Aberdeen roots. He often said he was born in Aberdeen in 1910, although biographers later cited his birthplace as White Station in Clay County, where he was listed in the 1920 census. Most local births at the time occurred not in towns but on farms, and Wolf was probably born in between Aberdeen and West Point. His parents were married in Monroe County in 1909 (Wolf’s birth year according to some documents; others indicate 1911). Wolf moved to the Delta as a youngster and later became famed in West Memphis and Chicago for his fearsome and charismatic stage persona and his bold, dynamic music. He died in 1976.
Albert King (1923-1992), often billed as “King of the Blues Guitar,” was a hero among blues and rock musicians and audiences. Documentation of his earliest years is vague, and King–whose surname at birth may have been Nelson, Blevins, or Gilmore–only added to the confusion in the ’60s by claiming B. B. King as his brother (denied by B. B.) and further citing B. B.’s hometown of Indianola as his own. However, on his Social Security application in 1942, his birthplace was entered as “Aboden, Miss.,” likely based on his pronunciation of Aberdeen. King was raised primarily in Arkansas and later resided in Lovejoy, Illinois.
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