Jessie Mae Hemphill
Born: October 18, 1922, Senatobia, Mississippi
Died: July 22, 2006
Photo credit: Bill Steber – www.steberphoto.com
An independent, feisty woman, Jessie Mae Hemphill established her career in the world of country blues at a time when the field was dominated by men. Decked out in her signature cowboy hat and colorful outfits, she performed a rhythmic style of North Mississippi Hill Country blues. Her great -grandfather Dock Hemphill, a former slave, played the fiddle. Her grandfather Sid Hemphill, a multi -instrumentalist, led a local fife and drum band. At the urging of her grandfather, Hemphill picked up the guitar, harmonica, and drums. As a child, she performed with her grandfather’s fife and drum band at picnics and other social functions. Her early work as a drummer, inspired her percussive style of blues guitar. During the mid 1950s, Hemphill moved to Memphis, where she worked odd jobs during the day. At night, she sang the blues in clubs on Beale Street or played for tips on the street’s bustling sidewalk. While in Memphis, she met Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Howlin’ Wolf, who greatly influenced her style. George Mitchell and Dr. David Evans made field recordings of Hemphill. In 1981, she made her first commercially released recording She Wolf. The next year, Vogue Records, a European label reissued She Wolf, introducing her to blues fans internationally. During the 1980s, she toured widely across Europe, Canada, and the United States. Her 1990 recording Feelin’ Good won a W.C. Handy Award for best acoustic blues album.