Holmes County Blues

Holmes County Blues - Lexington

Holmes County has been a significant contributor to the legacy of African American blues and gospel music in Mississippi. Heralded blues artists born or raised in the Lexington area include Elmore James (a native of Richland, about eleven miles south of town), Lee “Shot” Williams, Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers, and Lonnie Pitchford. B. B. King also lived briefly in Lexington as a teenager.

Lexington can claim a rich musical heritage as the onetime home of Blues Hall of Famers B. B. King and Elmore James along with an array of accomplished blues, soul, jazz, and gospel performers. King, born in 1925, was a budding guitarist and gospel singer when he moved to Lexington to live with his father Albert in 1940 for two years. James (1918-1963), a key figure in Mississippi and Chicago blues history, lived on various farms in Holmes County in his early years. His headstone in Ebenezer bears the inscription “King of the Slide Guitar.”

Several local families were responsible for much of Lexington’s blues legacy. Soul and blues singer Lee “Shot” Williams (1938-2011), whose recording career lasted almost fifty years, was a cousin of brothers Otis “Big Smokey” (1929-1993) and Albert (aka Abe) “Little Smokey” Smothers (1939-2010) and of Lester Davenport (1932-2009), all of whom were longtime figures on the Chicago blues scene. Williams and Otis Smothers were from Lexington; Albert Smothers, Davenport, and Chicago vocalist Arelean Brown (1924-1981), who claimed Williams as a brother, were from Tchula. In his later years Williams enjoyed renewed popularity on the Southern soul circuit by recording a series of risque songs. Otis Smothers performed in a more downhome vein and recorded some classic blues of his own in addition to doing sessions with Howlin’ Wolf and writing songs for Muddy Waters. Willie Douglas “W. D.” Pitchford, his wife Rosie, and their sons Willie Douglas, Jr., Charles Edward, Lonnie Lee, Andrew James (“A. J.”), and Rosby Pitchford from Lexington all played blues or gospel guitar. Lonnie (1955-1998), a critically acclaimed performer who toured several countries, carried on the music of Elmore James and Robert Johnson and also brought the homemade one-string “diddley bow” to prominence. Lexington’s Roseby brothers Ras (“Butch”) (1904-1970) and Edgar (a banjoist, 1921-1993) and their cousin, saxophonist John “Brick” Roseby (1910-1987), performed in various jazz and dance bands. Ras (Rasberry), a trombonist, later played drums for Elmore James and recorded as a sideman for Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 on Trumpet Records in Jackson.

Guitarist Lee Cooper (1925-1966), a prolific studio musician from Lexington who was skilled in both jazz and blues, recorded with Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Slim, Eddie Boyd, and many others in Chicago. Another Chicago bluesman with Lexington roots, James Scott, Jr. (c. 1913-1983), recorded in Memphis for Sun Records in 1952 and led the Scott Jr. Band in Mississippi and Chicago. Geneva Morganfield (1915-1973), who was immortalized in her husband Muddy Waters’ 1949 recording “Little Geneva,” was a native of Lexington, as was noted jazz bassist Malachi Favors (1927-2004), a member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

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