Brownie McGhee - Conversations With A River - Classic Blues Videos
talks about the Blues and then performs with Sonny in 1974
Blues guitar legend Brownie McGhee talks about the Blues and performs "Conversations With A River" with Sonny Terry on the BBC in 1974.
Walter Brown McGhee was born on November 30, 1915 in Knoxville,
Tennessee and raised in Kingsport and was surrounded by music growing
up as his father played guitar and sang and many other members of his
family had musical talent as well. Brownie had polio when he was four
years old and needed to be pushed around in a cart by his older
brother. It wasn't until 1937 that the March of Dimes sponsored an
operation for McGhee and he was able to walk again though a permanent
limp would remain with him for the rest of his life. While Brownie
might not have been able to walk during his childhood, he was able to
sing and learn guitar. In his youth he loved gospel music and performed
with local gospel group the Golden Voices Gospel Quartet. After his
operation in 1937 McGhee decided to test his legs on the road and made
the quick transition to Bluesman.
McGhee moved to North Carolina and began playing with Blind Boy Fuller and also worked as a musician in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels which toured as a tent show around the South. Blind Boy Fuller's manager loved Brownie and during this time took him up to Chicago and recorded over a dozen sides on Okeh Records. Blind Boy passed away in 1941 and his manager decided to try and put Brownie with Fuller's old harmonica player, Sonny Terry. Brownie and Sonny immediately found a musical chemistry and balance together that would become legendary in the Blues. The duo moved to New York in 1942 and began playing in the city's coffee houses and venues for folk music and quickly were acceptable into a circle of musical legends that included Rev. Gary Davis, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. McGhee and Terry would work together for over thirty years and were one of the first Blues musicians to perform in Europe in the 1950s.
Brownie had a solo career through this time as well and recorded many records in the 1940s and '50s under his own name as well as pseudonyms such as Spider Sam and Blind Boy Williams. McGhee also started his own school for the Blues in Harlem giving guitar lessons to anyone interested in learning. In addition to Brownie's musical career he performed on Broadway and in television and film. Some of those include Broadway appearances in "Cat On A Hot Tin" in 1955, in Langston Hughes' "Simply Heaven" and "Finian's Rainbow". McGhee performed in the films "The Jerk" and "Angel Heart" and even the television show "Family Ties". Brownie continued making beautiful music till his last days, performing at the Chicago Blues Festival in 1995. Brownie McGhee passed away in 1996 at eighty years old.
Brownie McGhee leaves a wonderful legacy as a legendary Blues singer and guitar player, Blues educator and even a talented performer in theater and film. Among the honors received by McGhee include the National Heritage Fellowship award from the National Endowment of the Arts. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for the music of Brownie and Sonny as there has been since I first heard them play as a teen. His music is the perfect combination of the heart and soul you expect from a Blues master along with sweetness and sincerity and that makes Brownie something real special. I know the music and art of Brownie McGhee will be enjoyed for a long, long time to come
"I only write about what I do, what happens to me."
"When somebody blazes a path to a highway that never end, you should appreciate 'em some. "