This Historic Day In Music: Big Bill Broonzy

I don’t remember when or where I first heard or read it, but Big Bill Broonzy is a name you don’t forget.

Big Bill Broonzy played guitar and sang the Blues.

Big Bill’s recording career started in November of 1927. He and guitarist John Thomas recorded “House Rent Stomp” and “Big Bill’s Blues” for Paramount Records. Paramount billed the duo as Big Bill & Thomp.

In the years that followed, Bill made hundreds of solo and duo records under a variety of names including Big Bill Broomsly, Big Bill Johnson and Sammy Sampson. He also cut sides as a member of The Famous Hokum Boys and as accompanist to a host of other artists including Washboard Sam, Memphis Slim and John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson.

By the time of his last recording session in July of 1957, Big Bill Broonzy had put together a career and a body of work that would establish him as one of the most prolific, popular and influential singers, guitarists and songwriters in the history of the Blues.

Just to give you some idea how prolific of a recording artist he was: in 1991, Document Records released The Complete Recorded Works (1927-1942) of Big Bill Broonzy. It is an 11 CD set.

Among the many musicians who put Big Bill Broonzy high on their list of influences are Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix and Bert Jansch.

Here’s a bit of Big Bill Broonzy’s Blues that never fails to make me smile.

That was recorded on March 30, 1932 in New York City.

Here’s a film of Big Bill Broonzy made by Pete Seeger on July 4, 1954 (1957?) at Circle Pines Center, a camp in Hastings, Michigan.

Big Bill Broonzy always claimed that he was born in Scott, Mississippi in 1893. His supposed twin sister once announced that she had a birth certificate that put the year at 1898. In his 2011 book, I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy, author & researcher Bob Reisman sets the year as 1903 and the location as Lake Dick, Jefferson County, Arkansas. 

Everyone agrees that the date of his birth was June 26.

I highly recommend the 1998 Columbia Records CD Warm, Witty & Wise as a great place to start listening to the music of Big Bill Broonzy.

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