Sunnyland Slim

Sunnyland Slim - Lambert

Albert Luandrew, better known as Sunnyland Slim, who was born in Vance (c. 1906), was a central figure on the Chicago blues scene from the 1940s until his death in 1995. Other noted Chicago bluesmen with Quitman County roots included Snooky Pryor, Jimmy Rogers, and Earl Hooker, while county natives Big Jack Johnson, James “Super Chikan” Johnson, and Johnnie Billington achieved renown while living in Mississippi. Lambert’s strip of juke joints on 8th Street was once a hub of blues activity.

Sunnyland Slim was regarded as a patriarch of the Chicago blues scene for decades, a position that stemmed from his various roles as a bandleader, label owner, gambling house operator, and active mentor to many younger artists. Sunnyland usually cited September 5, 1906 as his birth date, but when he registered for Social Security in Memphis in 1939 he claimed 1903. As a boy Sunnyland served as the organist at local churches, and in his mid-teens found work playing the organ behind silent films at a movie theater in nearby Lambert, a job that required knowledge of a wide range of music and improvisational ability. Around 1925 he moved to Memphis, where he played actively on Beale Street’s bustling club and theatre scene, and accompanied blues stars including Ma Rainey and Blind Blake. Sunnyland arrived in Chicago in the early ‘40s, and early gigs included work at parties with harmonica great John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson. He made his first solo recordings in 1947 for the Aristocrat label, using Muddy Waters as his guitarist; the same year he recorded as “Doctor Clayton’s Buddy,” paying tribute to a newly deceased mentor from whom Sunnyland borrowed his distinctive falsetto vocal technique.

Sunnyland, who died in Chicago on March 17, 1995, didn’t have many big hits, but he recorded prolifically for multiple labels including his own Airway Records. One of the many artists whom he helped upon their arrival in Chicago was Lambert native James “Snooky” Pryor (1921-2006), a harmonica player who—like Sunnyland and Waters—was a pioneer in the new, electric sounds of post-WWII Chicago blues. Some of Pryor’s first performances in Chicago were at the Maxwell Street market, where musicians serenaded shoppers. Other musicians with Quitman County roots who performed there were one-armed harmonica player Big John Wrencher, who lived in Sabino, and guitarist Maxwell Street Jimmy (Charles Thompson), a native of Vance.

Blues recording artists born in Quitman County include Earl Hooker (Vance), Big Jack Johnson (Lambert), James “Super Chikan” Johnson (Darling), and harmonica player Provine Hatch, Jr. (Sledge), who, as “Little Hatch,” became a leading player in Kansas City, Missouri’s down-home blues scene; prominent bluesmen Jimmy Rogers and Tony Hollins also lived in the county, and guitarist Fenton Robinson is buried in Marks. In 1999 Crowder native Johnnie Billington received a Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts for his work with blues education; his group J. B. and the Midnighters included two of his students from Lambert, brothers Harvell and Dionne Thomas. Marks native David Brinston became a leading artist in the soul-blues scene beginning in the early ‘90s, recording for labels including Ecko and Malaco.

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