John Lee Curtis "Sonny Boy" Williamson (March 30, 1914 – June 1, 1948) was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter. He is often regarded as the pioneer of the blues harp as a solo instrument and played on hundreds of blues recordings for many pre–World War II blues artists. Under his own name, Williamson was one of the most recorded blues musicians of the 1930s and 1940 and is closely associated with Chicago producer Lester Melrose and Bluebird Records.
The original Sonny Boy Williamson, often referred to as Sonny Boy Williamson I, was born John Lee Curtis Williamson in Jackson, Tennessee. (Another Sonny Boy Williamson, Alex Rice Miller (c.1912–1965) is known as Sonny Boy Williamson II ).
John lee Curtis Williamson picked up the name Sonny Boy because he was only about 16 when he started to follow the Mississippi River north with his harmonica to seek a life as a musician. By his late teens, Williamson was touring with established musicians, playing what was called "country blues." Williamson settled in Chicago around 1934 and quickly caught the attention of the local musicians.
A chiefly self-taught virtuoso, he began recording for Bluebird Records in 1937, singing and playing harmonica. His first song was "Good Morning Schoolgirl," an instant classic that was later covered numerous times, by bands such as the Yardbirds and the Grateful Dead. Other hits from that year include "Sugar Mama Blues" and "Blue Bird Blues," both of which are also regarded as early classics.
|Sonny Boy with Big Bill Broonzy|
With his unrivalled harmonica playing and vocal skills that were unique and instantly recognizable (due to a speech impediment), Williamson began to churn out records that would redefine the blues sound, cutting more than 120 over the next 10 years. Beyond being popular, Williams' songs featured a harmonica sound that would become undeniably influential. Songs such as "Decoration Blues" and "Whiskey Headed Woman Blues" were followed by "T.B. Blues," "Tell Me Baby" and "Jivin' the Blues," all of which went a long way to solidify his reputation and made him the most influential harmonica player of his generation.
In 1947, Williamson's song "Shake the Boogie" was a nationwide hit, and he was at the height of his fame. Unfortunately for Williamson and the blues world, he would not live much longer. In June 1948, Williamson was returning from a performance on Chicago's South Side when he was robbed, beaten and stabbed with an ice pick. He died on the sidewalk, only 34 years old. Later that year, "Better Cut That Out" became a posthumous hit for Williamson, and he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1980. (Info from biography.com)