Blind Willie McTellBlind Willie McTell was born in Thomson, Georgia on May 5, 1898. His birth name was William Samuel McTier. He was born blind in one eye. During his childhood he also lost sight in his other eye. He moved around between Georgia, New York and Michigan, attending school's for the blind. McTell started playing music from an early age learning to read and write music in Braille. His first instruments were the harmonica and accordion, switching to six-string guitar in his early teens. He was related to gospel and blues artist Thomas A. Dorsey. His father left when he was young and after his mother died in the 1920's he left his hometown to become a musician.
In 1927 he started recording for Victor Records.
In 1934 he married Ruth Kate Williams, who accompany him on stage and on recordings. She then became a nurse in 1939 and from 1942 till his death they lived apart.
He recorded under several names before World War II: Blind Willie McTell (for Victor and Decca), Blind Sammie (for Columbia), Georgia Bill (for Okeh), Hot Shot Willie (for Victor), Blind Willie (for Vocalion and Bluebird), Barrelhouse Sammie (for Atlantic), and Pig & Whistle Red (for Regal). McTell would play for tips on the street, including behind a Pig 'n Whistle restaurant.
In 1940 he was interviewed and recorded for John A.Lomax and Ruby Terrill Lomax, for the Archive of American Folk Song.
In 1949 McTell recorded for Atlantic Records and Regal Records. The recordings weren't quite as successful as his previous records.
In 1956, by now suffering from diabetes and alchoholism, record store owner Edward Rhodes made a final recording of McTell in exchange for some corn liquor. They were released after his death by Prestige/Bluesville records.
In 1957 McTell became a preacher. Two years later he died of a stroke.
In 1981 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Fundation's Blyes Hall of Fame and in 1990 was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.