Little Milton Campbell, one of the world’s leading performers of blues and soul music for several decades, was born on the George Bowles plantation about two miles southwest of this site on September 7, 1933. Acclaimed as both a singer and guitarist, Campbell was a longtime crowd favorite at Mississippi festivals and nightclubs. His hits included “We’re Gonna Make It,” “The Blues Is Alright,” and “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” He died in Memphis on August 4, 2005.
There was nothing “little” in stature or physique about Milton Campbell, whose nickname served only to distinguish him from his father, “Big” Milton Campbell. As a vocalist Campbell was equally effective with powerful anthems and soft ballads, and as a guitarist he had few peers. He was also a savvy businessman who demanded professionalism from his bands and insisted on maintaining a consistent musical identity throughout his long career. Campbell produced many of his own records and booked other artists through Camil Productions, a company he ran with his wife, Pat.
Campbell was born near Inverness but spent most of his early childhood with his mother in Magenta in Washington County. He built a one-stringed guitar on the side of his home and around age twelve he bought his first real guitar via mail order with money he had made by working in the cotton fields. He returned sometimes to stay with his father in Inverness and later performed at the town’s top blues venue, the Harlem Club, owned by Wallace Bowles (brother of plantation owner George Bowles, Jr.). Milton, however, always cited Leland blues bandleader Eddie Cusic as the first to give him experience playing for audiences. By his late teens Milton had moved to Greenville, where he performed with local luminaries including Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2, Joe Willie Wilkins, and Willie Love. He also hosted a radio program there on WGVM.
Campbell first recorded in Jackson as a sideman with Love in 1951. In 1953 talent scout Ike Turner helped Campbell land a recording contract with Sun Records in Memphis. Milton started to develop his own distinctive style after relocating in the mid-’50s to East St. Louis and later to Chicago. In St. Louis he recorded for Bobbin Records and also recruited talent for the label, including then little-known Albert King. Campbell moved on to Chicago’s Checker label, where he began to blend his blues with soul music and rose to national prominence with a long string of hits. In 1971 Campbell signed with the Memphis soul label Stax, where he scored further hits, and in 1984 he joined the Jackson-based Malaco label for a long and productive association that resulted in fourteen albums. He moved to Las Vegas, though he kept an apartment in Memphis in order to be closer to the Southern soul and blues performing circuit where he remained a major attraction. During his career Little Milton had a total of twenty-nine singles and seventeen albums on the Billboard magazine charts. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1988. Campbell suffered a stroke on July 27, 2005, and died a week later.
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