One of the most influential blues artists of all time was Mississippi singer and songwriter "Big Bill" Broonzy. His arrival in Chicago in 1920 marked a turning point for the blues. It was there that Broonzy switched from playing fiddle to guitar, making some groundbreaking recordings as both a sideman and a leader. This legendary bluesman now has a new CD called "Absolutely The Best."
In his day, Bill Broonzy was considered the absolute best. He could play any style of blues, including ragtime, gospel, traditional folk, city and country blues.
Big Bill Broonzy defined Delta blues. One of 17 children born into a family of sharecroppers, Broonzy learned to play fiddle from his uncle. He served in the Army during World War I. When he returned from service, he decided to make a living as a singer and guitar player. Moving north to Chicago, Broonzy took guitar lessons from famed medicine show performer "Papa" Charlie Jackson. Broonzy made his recording debut for Paramount Records in 1926.
Big Bill Broonzy soon reached celebrity status on the Chicago blues circuit. He performed at such Windy City nightspots as the 1410 Club, Ruby Gatewoods and Johnson's Tavern as well as the Regal, Savoy and Indiana Theatres. He recorded extensively in the 1930s and '40s, and appeared alongside other blues luminaries in John Hammond's "Spirituals to Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall. Broonzy's popularity culminated with a triumphant European tour in 1951.
Big Bill Broonzy recorded more than 350 songs, including the crowd-pleasing "Baby, Please Don't Go," written by Big Joe Williams in 1935.
As a composer, Broonzy was a master of slow blues. Originals like "Feelin' Lowdown," "I Got Up One Mornin' Blues" and "Treat Everybody Right" are quintessential Delta blues ballads.
The introduction of electric blues didn't hamper Broonzy's style. In fact, he encouraged up-and-coming Chicago blues artists while performing his acoustic folk-blues to a new generation of listeners.
After a long battle with throat cancer, Broonzy died at age 65 in 1958. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1980.