Robert Johnson
American blues musician
Robert Johnson
Robert Leroy Johnson was an American blues singer and musician. His landmark recordings from 1936–37 display a combination of singing, guitar skills, and songwriting talent that has 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.
Biography
Robert Johnson's personal information overview.
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Photo Albums
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Relationships
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News
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Pop's tops for Johnson clan - The Manly Daily
Google News - over 5 years
John Johnson (centre) with his some of his 10 children (Peter Johnson, from left, Angela Rudge, Ged Johnson and Robert Johnson) and 30 grandchildren (Cody, from left, Tyler, Kyle, Charlie, Cooper and Kira). WITH 10 children and 30 grandchildren,
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9/11 tributes: Dances of remembrance and hope - The Star-Ledger - NJ.com
Google News - over 5 years
By Robert Johnson/The Star-Ledger Paul B. GoodeDancers rehearse for the "Table of Silence Project," choreographed by Jacqulyn Buglisi NEW YORK—Choreographer Sarah Skaggs was in her apartment, listening to National Public Radio, when she first heard
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McDowell County Man in Critical Condition Following Alleged Murder Suicide - WVNS
Google News - over 5 years
A close family friend said Robert Johnson entered his home on Jenkinjones Road in Anawalt at around 2 pm on Wednesday and shot his wife, Patricia, in the head. According to the friend, Johnson then went to his brother's house, told him what he had done
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David 'Honeyboy' Edwards dies at 96; Chicago bluesman - Los Angeles Times
Google News - over 5 years
Edwards, the son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave, performed with the founders of the art form, Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Son House, Tommy McLennan, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Joe Williams. He was the last of the bluesmen from his ... - -
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MUSIC REVIEW; Two Interpretations of New York, One Layered With Tart Observations
NYTimes - over 5 years
If classical music in its traditional forms is scarce at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the series has always had a place for new music of the Downtown persuasion. Its principal offering from that world this summer was a double bill of idiosyncratic violinist-composers on Wednesday evening. Todd Reynolds opened the program, sharing the stage with
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Native Sons
NYTimes - over 5 years
THE NIGHT TRAIN By Clyde Edgerton 215 pp. Little, Brown & Company. $23.99. Clyde Edgerton's slim, charming 10th novel is set in the rural South, as the spring of 1963 turns into summer. It is a fraught moment in American history, but in the town of Starke, N.C., the rhetoric and rupture of the civil rights movement are still felt only as distant
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NYTimes article
Education, jobs on lips of Rep. candidates - Natchez Democrat
Google News - over 5 years
Incumbent Representative Robert Johnson said increasing the value of education in Adams County would ultimately affect its economy. “You don't change education just with money,” he said. “The best way to change anything is to have a strong economic
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Texas Heat Wave Affects Idaho Cattle Prices - LocalNews8.com
Google News - over 5 years
"In my mind I think one of the biggest risks we have is just our overall economy," said cattle feeder Robert Johnson. For most feedlots around the country though, July has been anything but typical. Hot, dry weather in the South and Midwest caused
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Prison Sentence may Await Johnson - Patch.com
Google News - over 5 years
Robert Johnson, whose family ran the former Quarry Town Stables in Portland, was convicted of a probation violation and now faces five years and three months in prison. On Thursday, he asked the judge at Middlesex Superior Court for leniency
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Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Robert Johnson
    TWENTIES
  • 1938
    Age 26
    In 1938, Columbia Records producer John H. Hammond, who owned some of Johnson's records, had record producer Don Law seek out Johnson to book him for the first "From Spirituals to Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.
    More Details Hide Details On learning of Johnson's death, Hammond replaced him with Big Bill Broonzy, but still played two of Johnson's records from the stage.
  • 1937
    Age 25
    In 1937, Johnson traveled to Dallas, Texas, for another recording session with Don Law in a makeshift studio at the Vitagraph (Warner Brothers) Building, at 508 Park Avenue, where Brunswick Record Corporation was located on the third floor.
    More Details Hide Details Eleven records from this session would be released within the following year. Johnson did two takes of most of these songs and recordings of those takes survived. Because of this, there is more opportunity to compare different performances of a single song by Johnson than for any other blues performer of his time and place. Johnson recorded almost half of the 29 songs that make up his entire discography in Dallas.
  • 1936
    Age 24
    In 1961, the sleeve notes to the album King of the Delta Blues Singers included reminiscences of Don Law who had recorded Johnson in 1936.
    More Details Hide Details Law added to the mystique surrounding Johnson, representing him as very young and extraordinarily shy. The two confirmed images of Johnson were located in 1973, in the possession of his half-sister Carrie Thompson, but were not widely published until the late 1980s. A third photo, purporting to show Johnson posing with the blues musician Johnny Shines, was published in the November 2008 issue of Vanity Fair magazine. It was declared authentic by the forensic artist Lois Gibson and by Johnson's estate in 2013. The authenticity of the third photo has been disputed by some music historians, including Elijah Wald and Gayle Dean Wardlow, who considered that the clothing suggests a date after Johnson's death and that the photograph may have been reversed and retouched. In December 2015 a fourth photograph was published, purportedly showing Johnson, his wife Calletta Craft, Estella Coleman, and Robert Lockwood Jr. This photograph was also declared authentic by Lois Gibson, but her identification of Johnson has been dismissed by other facial recognition experts and blues historians. In his book Searching for Robert Johnson, Peter Guralnick stated that the blues archivist Mack McCormick showed him a photograph of Johnson with his nephew Louis, probably taken at the same time as the famous "pinstripe suit" photograph, showing Louis dressed in his United States Navy uniform. This photograph has never been made public.
    Five significant dates from his career are documented: Monday, Thursday and Friday, November 23, 26, and 27, 1936, at a recording session in San Antonio, Texas; and Saturday and Sunday, June 19 and 20, 1937, at a recording session in Dallas.
    More Details Hide Details His death certificate, discovered in 1968, lists the date and location of his death. Johnson's records were admired by record collectors from the time of their first release and efforts were made to discover his biography, with virtually no success. Blues researcher Mack McCormick began researching his family background, but was never ready to publish. McCormick's research eventually became as much a legend as Johnson himself. In 1982, McCormick permitted Peter Guralnick to publish a summary in Living Blues (1982), later reprinted in book form as Searching for Robert Johnson. Later research has sought to confirm this account or to add minor details. A revised summary acknowledging major informants was written by Stephen LaVere for the booklet accompanying the compilation album Robert Johnson, The Complete Recordings (1990), and is maintained with updates at the Delta Haze website. The documentary film The Search for Robert Johnson contains accounts by McCormick and Wardlow of what informants have told them: long interviews of David Honeyboy Edwards and Johnny Shines and short interviews of surviving friends and family. These published biographical sketches achieve coherent narratives, partly by ignoring reminiscences and hearsay accounts which contradict or conflict with other accounts.
    In Jackson, Mississippi, around 1936, Johnson sought out H. C. Speir, who ran a general store and also acted as a talent scout.
    More Details Hide Details Speir put Johnson in touch with Ernie Oertle, who, as a salesman for the ARC group of labels, introduced Johnson to Don Law to record his first sessions in San Antonio, Texas. The recording session was held on November 23, 1936, in room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, which Brunswick Records had set up to be a temporary recording studio. In the ensuing three-day session, Johnson played 16 selections, and recorded alternate takes for most of these. Johnson reportedly performed facing the wall, which has been cited as evidence he was a shy man and reserved performer. This conclusion was played up in the inaccurate liner notes of the 1961 album King of the Delta Blues Singers. Slide guitarist Ry Cooder speculates that Johnson played facing a corner to enhance the sound of the guitar, a technique he calls "corner loading".
    His landmark recordings in 1936 and 1937 display a combination of singing, guitar skills, and songwriting talent that has influenced later generations of musicians.
    More Details Hide Details Johnson's shadowy and poorly documented life and death at age 27 have given rise to much legend, including the Faustian myth that he sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads to achieve success. As an itinerant performer who played mostly on street corners, in juke joints, and at Saturday night dances, Johnson had little commercial success or public recognition in his lifetime. It was only after the reissue of his recordings in 1961, on the LP King of the Delta Blues Singers, that his work reached a wider audience. Johnson is now recognized as a master of the blues, particularly of the Mississippi 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 its first induction ceremony, in 1986. In 2010, David Fricke ranked Johnson fifth in Rolling Stone magazine's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".
  • 1935
    Age 23
    Some scholars have argued that the devil in these songs may refer not only to the Christian figure of Satan but also to the African trickster god Legba, himself associated with crossroads. Folklorist Harry M. Hyatt wrote that, during his research in the South from 1935–1939, when African-Americans born in the 19th or early-20th century said they or anyone else had "sold their soul to the devil at the crossroads," they had a different meaning in mind.
    More Details Hide Details Hyatt claimed there was evidence indicating African religious retentions surrounding Legba and the making of a "deal" (not selling the soul in the same sense as in the Faustian tradition cited by Graves) with this so-called "devil" at the crossroads. This view that the devil in Johnson's songs is derived from an African deity was disputed by the blues scholar David Evans in an essay published in 1999, "Demythologizing the Blues": The musicologist Alan Lomax dismissed the myth by stating "In fact, every blues fiddler, banjo picker, harp blower, piano strummer and guitar framer was, in the opinion of both himself and his peers, a child of the Devil, a consequence of the black view of the European dance embrace as sinful in the extreme". Johnson is considered a master of the blues, particularly of the Delta blues style. Keith Richards, of the Rolling Stones, said in 1990, "You want to know how good the blues can get? Well, this is it." But according to Elijah Wald, in his book Escaping the Delta, Johnson in his own time was most respected for his ability to play in a wide range of styles, from raw country slide guitar to jazz and pop licks, and for his ability to pick up guitar parts almost instantly upon hearing a song. His first recorded song, "Kind Hearted Woman Blues," in contrast to the prevailing Delta style of the time, more resembled the style of Chicago or St. Louis, with "a full-fledged, abundantly varied musical arrangement."
  • 1933
    Age 21
    Fellow musician Shines was 17 when he met Johnson in 1933.
    More Details Hide Details He estimated Johnson was maybe a year older than himself. In Samuel Charters' Robert Johnson, Shines describes Johnson: During this time Johnson established what would be a relatively long-term relationship with Estella Coleman, a woman about 15 years his senior and the mother of musician Robert Lockwood, Jr. Johnson reportedly cultivated a woman to look after him in each town he played in. He supposedly asked homely young women living in the country with their families whether he could go home with them, and in most cases he was accepted, until a boyfriend arrived or Johnson was ready to move on. In 1941, Alan Lomax learned from Muddy Waters that Johnson had performed in the Clarksdale, Mississippi area. By 1959, historian Samuel Charters could add only that Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band remembered Johnson had once briefly played with him in West Memphis, Arkansas. In the last year of his life, Johnson is believed to have traveled to St. Louis and possibly Illinois, and then to some states in the East.
  • 1932
    Age 20
    From 1932 until his death in 1938, Johnson moved frequently between large cities like Memphis, Tennessee, and Helena, Arkansas, and the smaller towns of the Mississippi Delta and neighboring regions of Mississippi and Arkansas.
    More Details Hide Details On occasion, he traveled much farther. The blues musician Johnny Shines accompanied him to Chicago, Texas, New York, Canada, Kentucky, and Indiana. Henry Townsend 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 he seduced at his first performance. In each location, Johnson's hosts were largely ignorant of his life elsewhere. He used different names in different places, employing at least eight distinct surnames. Biographers have looked for consistency from musicians who knew Johnson in different contexts: Shines, who traveled extensively with him; Lockwood, who knew him as his mother's partner; David "Honeyboy" Edwards, whose cousin Willie Mae Powell had a relationship with Johnson. From a mass of partial, conflicting, and inconsistent eyewitness accounts, biographers have attempted to summarize Johnson's character. "He was well mannered, he was soft spoken, he was indecipherable". "As for his character, everyone seems to agree that, while he was pleasant and outgoing in public, in private he was reserved and liked to go his own way". "Musicians who knew Johnson testified that he was a nice guy and fairly average—except, of course, for his musical talent, his weakness for whiskey and women, and his commitment to the road."
  • TEENAGE
  • 1931
    Age 19
    The court heard that he had been born to Virgie Jane Smith (later Virgie Jane Cain), who had a relationship with Robert Johnson in 1931.
    More Details Hide Details The relationship was attested to by a friend, Eula Mae Williams, but other relatives descended from Robert Johnson's half-sister, Carrie Harris Thompson, contested Claud Johnson's claim. The effect of the judgment was to allow Claud Johnson to receive over $1 million in royalties. Claud Johnson died, aged 83, on June 30, 2015, leaving six children. Eleven 78-rpm records by Johnson were released by Vocalion Records during his lifetime. A twelfth was issued posthumously. Johnson's estate holds the copyrights to his songs. The Complete Recordings, a two-disc set, released on August 28, 1990, contains almost everything Johnson recorded, with all 29 recordings, and 12 alternate takes. (Another alternate take of "Traveling Riverside Blues" which was released by Sony on the CD King of the Delta Blues Singers and was included in early printings of the paperback edition of Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta.)
    While living in Martinsville, Johnson fathered a child with Vergie Mae Smith. He married Caletta Craft in May 1931.
    More Details Hide Details In 1932, the couple moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the Delta. Here Caletta died in childbirth, and Johnson left for a career as a "walking" or itinerant musician.
  • 1929
    Age 17
    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.
    More Details Hide Details She died in childbirth shortly after. 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 blues musician Son House moved to Robinsonville, where his musical partner Willie Brown 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, possibly searching for his natural father. Here he perfected the guitar style of House and learned other styles from Isaiah "Ike" Zinnerman. Zinnerman was rumored to have learned supernaturally to play guitar by visiting graveyards at midnight. When Johnson next appeared in Robinsonville, he seemed to have miraculously acquired a 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.
  • 1924
    Age 12
    Robert was at school in 1924 and 1927 and the quality of his signature on his marriage certificate suggests that he was relatively well educated for a boy of his background.
    More Details Hide Details One school friend, Willie Coffee, was located and filmed, recalling that Robert was already noted for playing the harmonica and jaw harp. He also remembered that Robert was absent for long periods, which suggests that he may have been living and studying in Memphis.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1920
    Age 8
    In the 1920 census he is listed as Robert Spencer, living in Lucas, Arkansas, with Will and Julia Willis.
    More Details Hide Details
  • 1919
    Age 7
    About 1919, Robert rejoined his mother in the Mississippi Delta area around Tunica and Robinsonville, Mississippi.
    More Details Hide Details Julia's new husband, known as Dusty Willis, was 24 years her junior. Robert was remembered by some residents as "Little Robert Dusty", but he was registered at Tunica's Indian Creek School as Robert Spencer.
  • 1911
    Born
    Carrie Thompson claimed that her mother, who was also Robert's mother, remembered his birth date as May 8, 1911.
    More Details Hide Details The 1920 census gives his age as 7, suggesting he was born in 1912 or 1913.
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