Died 15th August 1958
Big Bill Broonzy (William Lee Conley Broonzy) was one of the original great stars of the blues. He recorded hundreds of songs – the best remembered include All by Myself and Key to the Highway. He was instrumental in developing the Chicago Blues sound and then took it around the world. He was a big influence on the UK Blues movement in the fifties and sixties.
He was quite literally born on the banks of the Mississippi, one of a family of 17. Taught by his uncle on a home made fiddle, he was performing by the age of ten at social functions and in church.
After Army service, Bill moved to Chicago and switched from violin to guitar, playing with ‘Papa’ Charlie Jackson. Big Bill Broonzy began recording with Paramount in 1927. In the early 1930s, he recorded great blues tracks and worked alongside piano man Black Bob, guitarist Will Weldon, and Memphis Minnie.
He played guitar on recordings by Bumble Bee Slim, John Lee Hooker and Sonny BoyWilliamson, generating the Chicago Blues sound.
In 1938, Big Bill played at Carnegie Hall (filling in for Robert Johnson) for John Hammond‘s Spirituals to Swing Series. In 1939, he appeared with Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong in George Seldes’s film production Swingin’ The Dream. In the early 1940s he worked in Chicago with Memphis Slim.
He recorded for Chess, Columbia and Folkways, recording with Blind John Davis and even folk artist Pete Seeger. In 1955 a book Big Bill Blues, his life as told to Danish writer Yannick Bruynoghe, was published.
Key To The Highway
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