The Chatmon Family

The Chatmon Family - Bolton

The Henderson Chatmon family, which produced some of Mississippi’s most important blues and string band musicians, lived near this site on Texas Street in 1900. Henderson’s sons Armenter, better known as “Bo Carter” and Sam Chatmon recorded extensively as solo artists, and both also recorded with the Mississippi Sheiks, a popular group that featured their brother Lonnie Chatmon on fiddle. Various Chatmon ensembles entertained black and white audiences for several decades in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Sheiks were the country’s most prominent African American string band in the 1930s when they recorded the classics “Sitting on Top of the World,” “Stop and Listen Blues,” and “Winter Time Blues.” At dances the Sheiks featured various members of the prolific Chatmon family and friends from Bolton, Raymond, and Edwards, but in the recording studio the unit was most often a duo–violinist Lonnie Chatmon and singer-guitarist Walter Vinson–sometimes joined by guitarist Bo Chatmon, who recorded over 100 songs under the name Bo Carter, Sam Chatmon, or Charlie McCoy. The Chatmons played at dances in central Mississippi and the Delta, usually splitting into smaller groups to make the pay go farther. On record they were best known for blues, but they also played waltzes, reels, Tin Pan Alley songs, ballads, and minstrel show tunes to cater to both their white and black audiences. Muddy Waters, who then played in a similar string band, said he “walked ten miles to hear them play.”

Henderson Chatmon (born c. 1850), a fiddler, rented land from Gaddis & McLaurin Farms and raised crops with his sons at various locations south and west of Bolton. They once had a residence in town; in the 1900 census the household was enumerated here, in between those of George C. McLaurin and Thomas Lacy. His wife Eliza and children Fred, Josie, Alonzo (“Lonnie”), Armenter (“Bo”), Edgar, Willie (“Crook”), Lamar (“Bert”), Vivian (who chose to be called Sam), Larry (“Poochie”), and Harry (“Tie”), all born between c. 1885 and 1904, played multiple instruments, including guitar, violin, banjo, mandolin, bass, and piano. Ferdinand (“Bud”), a son from Henderson’s first marriage, Walter Vinson, Charlie and Joe McCoy, and Charley Patton, said by Sam to be a son of Henderson, also played with the Chatmons at times. Crystal Springs bluesman Houston Stackhouse sometimes played with Lonnie and with a group called the Mississippi Sheiks No. 2.

The Sheiks recorded from 1930 to 1935, until their string band blues faded from fashion with record buyers. Bo Carter, who recorded “Corrine Corrina” and specialized in bawdy blues, continued to record until 1940 after moving to Anguilla. He and several Chatmons also lived at times in Coahoma County and in Jackson, where Harry remained, playing piano around the city and “’cross the river” in Rankin County. In 1936 Lonnie opened a cafe in Glen Allan, while Sam worked as a farmer and night watchman in Hollandale before embarking on a new recording and touring career during the folk blues revival of the 1960s. In 1972 he and Vinson reunited to record as the New Mississippi Sheiks. As the other Chatmon brothers passed on or retired from performing, only Sam was left to carry on the family’s fabled musical tradition until his death in 1983.

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