Blind Willie McTell Born in Thomson, Georgia in 1898 and would become one of the most influential blues artists ever. Willie lost his sight in late childhood and learned how to play guitar in his early teens. He soon became a street performer around several cities including Atlanta and Augusta, and first recorded in 1927 for Victor Records. Willie also became an accomplished musical theorist, able to read and write music in Braille, through an encouraging family and strong faith.
Although he never produced a major hit record, McTell’s recording career was prolific, recording for different labels under different names throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In 1940, he was recorded for the Library of Congress’s folk song archive. He would remain active throughout the 1940s and 50s, playing on the streets of Atlanta, often with his longtime associate, Curley Weaver. McTell was one of the few blues musicians of his generation who continued to actively play and record during the 1940s and ’50s.
While few of his recordings ever earned mainstream popularity, his influence on the modern music and art scene is widely known. His songs “Statesboro Blues and Broke Down Engine Blues” have been recorded by famous artists including the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, and others.
Today Blind Willie McTell is honored every year in Thomson with the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival.
“For the last 23 years we’ve been honoring him with the Blind Willie McTell blues festival and this year we are really proud to have a new art project called McTell’s 12 string strut. 12 seven foot guitars are being painted by local artists and will be displayed for a 3 year period”
The blues festival brings thousands of people every year with many music acts and the annual event gets bigger and better every year. The event will be held May 7th in Thomson.
Thomson Georgia has a special place in its heart for McTell and he would be proud of how exciting the festival has become.
“I think that Blind Willie would be honored by everything that we are doing for him. If he were alive today, he’d be at the festival, he would be there with his guitar and be playing with everyone and having a great time”
In Thomson, Georgia for your hometown stories, I’m John Lynn, WJBF News Channel 6.