Robert Johnson - Happy Birthday Robert Johnson - Classic Blues Videos
hours of Music in Celebration of his Birth
In celebration of the life and music of Blues guitar master Robert Johnson. In his twenty-seven years of life Robert left a legacy and legend as one of the greatest guitar players ever to walk this earth as well as a man of mystery that has people searching for his truth through the puzzle pieces he left behind. The fact remains though that the heart and soul he expressed in his playing, singing and lyrics tell us a story of the life and times of his generation that still resonates with fans to this day. Just a few honors Johnson received posthumously include being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame as well as having four of his tunes included in a list of 500 songs that shaped the genre, inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, The Complete Recordings of his music won a Grammy Award and included in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry, won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, ranked fifth in Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp and has had many films, books and musical tributes made in his honor.
The music and story of Robert Johnson will continue to live and be enjoyed for generations to come.
Watch the full length documentary film about Robert's life and music: The Search For Robert Johnson
Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938) was an American blues singer and musician. His landmark recordings from 1936–1937 display a combination of singing, guitar skills, and songwriting talent that have influenced later generations of musicians. Johnson's shadowy, poorly documented life and death at age 27 have given rise to much legend, including a Faustian myth. As an itinerant performer who played mostly on street corners, in juke joints, and at Saturday night dances, Johnson enjoyed little commercial success or public recognition in his lifetime.
His records sold poorly during his lifetime, and it was only after the first reissue of his recordings on LP in 1961 that his work reached a wider audience. Johnson is now recognized as a master of the blues, particularly of the Delta blues style. He is credited by many rock musicians as an important influence; Eric Clapton has called Johnson "the most important blues singer that ever lived". Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an "Early Influence" in their first induction ceremony in 1986. He was ranked fifth in Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Robert Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, possibly on May 8, 1911, to Julia Major Dodds (born October 1874) and Noah Johnson (born December 1884). Julia was married to Charles Dodds (born February 1865), a relatively prosperous landowner and furniture maker with whom she gave birth to 10 children. Dodds had been forced by a lynch mob to leave Hazlehurst following a dispute with white landowners. Julia herself left Hazlehurst with baby Robert, but after some two years, sent him to live in Memphis with Dodds, who had changed his name to Charles Spencer.
Around 1919, Robert rejoined his mother in the area around Tunica and Robinsonville, Mississippi. Julia's new husband was known as Dusty Willis; he was 24 years her junior. Robert was remembered by some residents as "Little Robert Dusty." However, he was registered at the Indian Creek School in Tunica as Robert Spencer. He is listed as Robert Spencer in the 1920 census with Will and Julia Willis in Lucas, Arkansas, where they lived for a short time. Robert was at school in 1924 and 1927 and the quality of his signature on his marriage certificate suggests that he studied continuously and was relatively well educated for a boy of his background. One school friend, Willie Coffee, has been discovered and filmed. He recalls that Robert was already noted for playing the harmonica and jaw harp. He also remembers that Robert was absent for long periods, which suggests that he may have been living and studying in Memphis.
After school, Robert adopted the surname of his natural father, signing himself as Robert Johnson on the certificate of his marriage to sixteen-year-old Virginia Travis in February 1929. She died shortly after in childbirth. Surviving relatives of Virginia told the blues researcher Robert "Mack" McCormick that this was a divine punishment for Robert's decision to sing secular songs, known as 'selling your soul to the Devil'. McCormick believes that Johnson himself accepted the phrase as a description of his resolve to abandon the settled life of a husband and farmer to become a full-time blues musician.
Around this time, the noted blues musician Son House moved to Robinsonville where his musical partner, Willie Brown, already lived. Late in life, House remembered Johnson as a 'little boy' who was a competent harmonica player but an embarrassingly bad guitarist. Soon after, Johnson left Robinsonville for the area around Martinsville, close to his birthplace Hazlehurst, possibly searching for his natural father. Here he perfected the guitar style of Son House and learned other styles from the brothers Ike and Herman Zimmerman. Ike Zimmerman was rumored to have learned supernaturally to play guitar by visiting graveyards at midnight. When Johnson next appeared in Robinsonville, he had seemed to have acquired a miraculous guitar technique. House was interviewed at a time when the legend of Johnson's pact with the Devil was well known among blues researchers. He was asked whether he attributed Johnson's technique to this pact, and his equivocal answers have been taken as confirmation.
From 1932 to his death in 1938, Johnson lived his life in a manner that makes biography scarcely possible. He moved frequently between such large centers as Memphis and Helena, Arkansas and the smaller towns of the Mississippi Delta and neighboring regions of Mississippi and Arkansas. On occasion, he travelled much further. Fellow blues musician Johnny Shines accompanied him to Chicago, Texas, New York, Canada, Kentucky, Indiana. David Honeyboy Edwards shared a musical engagement with him in St Louis. In many places he stayed with members of his large extended family, or with women friends. He did not marry again but formed some long term relationships with women to whom he would return periodically. One was Estella Coleman, the mother of the blues musician Robert Lockwood, Jr.. In other places he stayed with a woman seduced at his first performance. In each location, Johnson's hosts were largely ignorant of his life elsewhere. He actually used different names in different places. Even those who travelled with him from place to place were granted only a limited insight into his life and personality. Johnny Shines and Robert Lockwood travelled with him on numerous occasions, but their recollections are different and sometimes contradictory.
Fellow musician Johnny Shines was 17 when he met Johnson in 1933. He estimated that Johnson was maybe a year older than himself. In Samuel Charters' Robert Johnson, the author quotes Shines as saying:
"Robert was a very friendly person, even though he was sulky at times, you know. And I hung around Robert for quite a while. One evening he disappeared. He was kind of a peculiar fellow. Robert'd be standing up playing some place, playing like nobody's business. At about that time it was a hustle with him as well as a pleasure. And money'd be coming from all directions. But Robert'd just pick up and walk off and leave you standing there playing. And you wouldn't see Robert no more maybe in two or three weeks ... So Robert and I, we began journeying off. I was just, matter of fact, tagging along."
During this time Johnson established what would be a relatively long-term relationship with Estella Coleman, a woman who was about fifteen years his elder and the mother of musician Robert Lockwood, Jr. But Johnson reportedly cultivated a woman to look after him in each town he played in. Johnson supposedly asked homely young women living in the country with their families whether he could go home with them, and in most cases the answer was 'yes'—until a boyfriend arrived or Johnson was ready to move on.
In 1938, Columbia Records producer John H. Hammond, who owned some of Johnson's records, sought him out to book him for the first "From Spirituals to Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. On learning of Johnson's death, Hammond replaced him with Big Bill Broonzy, but still played two of Johnson's records from the stage.
Johnson died on August 16, 1938, at the age of 27, near Greenwood, Mississippi. He had been playing for a few weeks at a country dance in a town about 15 miles (24 km) from Greenwood.
Wikipedia contributors. "Robert Johnson (musician)." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 May. 2011. Web. 7 May. 2011.