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Blind Willie Johnson

On 25/01/1897: Blind Willie Johnson was born in Pendleton, Texas. He and his family would move to Marlin, where Johnson grew up. Johnson and his family would attend church and it fuel his later ambition to become a Baptist minister. When he was five, his father gave him a cigar box guitar. Johnson was not born blind, but he was blinded at an early age. There are several theories about how he was blinded. The most agreed upon story was given by Johnson's widow Angeline Johnson. She said he was blinded by his step-mother who splashed him with lye water when his father argued with her about her infidelity. During his childhood, Johnson met musician Madkin Butler, who influenced his style. Johnson would perform on street corners, whilst visiting his father in Hearne. Johnson would sometimes play on the same street as Blind Lemon Jefferson, but it is unclear if they knew each other.
In 1926 or 1927, Johnson married Willie B. Harris, though it was unregistered. She joined him to sing on the street with him. They had a daughter together in 1931, Sam Faye Johnson Kelly. Blues guitarist L. C. Robinson's sister Anne claimed to also be married to Johnson in the late 1920s.
On 03/12/1927, Johnson was brought into a temporary studio in Deep Ellum, Dallas to record for Columbia Records with Billiken Johnson and Coley Jones. Johnson recorded 13 takes for six selections. He was accompanied by Willie B. Harris on his first recording "I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole". He received $50 per side and got a bonus to sign away his royalties. The songs "I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole" and "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed" were a great success and even outsold some of Columbia's bigger stars.
In 1928, Johnson and Harris returned to Dallas to record four songs. Johnson also recorded two unreleased songs under the name of Blind Texas Marlin. Those two songs have been lost.
In 1929, Johnson recorded for the longest sessions of his career, completing 10 sides on 16 takes at Werlein's Music Store, New Orleans. They included an unknown female singer who is thought to be part of Reverend J.M. Gates's congregation. According to historian Richard Allen, Johnson was arrested for allegedly attempting to incite a riot when he performed in from of the Custom House in New Orleans. Johnson then went to Atlanta and complete ten selections by 20/04/1930. The recordings did not sell as well due to the Great Depression and Johnson didn't record again.
Johnson allegedly married Angeline Johnson, though again this was unlikely to be registered.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Johnson performed around Texas.
In 1945, a Reverend W. J. Johnson thought to be Blind Willie, operated the House of Prayer in Beaumont. In the same year, Johnson's house was burnt down and he was forced to live in the ruins as he had nowhere else to go. He contracted malarial fever, but no hospital would admit him.
On 18/09/1945, Johnson died, with syphilis and blindness being reported as contributing factors.
Johnson's music would see a revival in the 1960s and he was highly regarded in the folk scene.

The Music History Calendar is written by the Blues Rock artist Marshland Pete
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