Thursday, February 26, 2009
Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee
Saunders Terrell, better known as Sonny Terry (24 October 1911, Greensboro, North Carolina - 11 March 1986, Mineola, New York) was a blind blues musician. He was most widely known for his energetic blues harmonica style, which frequently included vocal whoops and hollers, and imitations of trains and fox hunts.
Walter Brown ("Brownie") McGhee (November 30, 1915 - February 16, 1996) was a folk-blues singer and guitarist, best known for his collaborations with the harmonica player Sonny Terry.
At age 22, Brownie McGhee became a traveling musician, working in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and befriending Blind Boy Fuller, whose guitar playing influenced him greatly. After Fuller's death in 1941, J. B. Long of Columbia Records had McGhee adopt his mentor's name, branding him "Blind Boy Fuller No. 2." By that time, McGhee was recording for Columbia's subsidiary Okeh Records in Chicago, Illinois, but his real success came after he moved to New York City in 1942, when he teamed up with Sonny Terry, whom he had known since 1939 as Blind Boy Fuller's harmonica player. The pairing was an overnight success; as well as recording, they toured together until around 1980. As a duo, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee did most of their work from 1958 until 1980, spending eleven months of each year touring, and recording dozens of albums.
Despite their later fame as "pure" folk artists playing for white audiences, in the 1940s Terry and McGhee also attempted to be successful black recording performers, fronting a jump blues combo with honking saxophone and rolling piano, variously calling themselves "Brownie McGhee and his Jook House Rockers" or "Sonny Terry and his Buckshot Five," often with Champion Jack Dupree and Big Chief Ellis. They also appeared in the original Broadway productions of Finian's Rainbow and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
During the blues revival of the 1960s, Terry and McGhee were very popular on the concert and festival circuits, occasionally adding new material but usually remaining faithful to their roots music and their white customers.