Henry TownsendHenry Townsend was born on 27/10/1909 in Shelby, Mississippi. His full birth name was Henry Jesse James Townsend. He grew up in Cairo, Illinois. At the age of 9, Townsend left home to get away from his abusive father and hoboed his way to St. Louis, Missouri. In his early teens, Townsend learnt the guitar from a locally renowned blues guitarist called Dudlow Joe.
By the late 1920s, Townsend was touring and recording with pianist Walter Davis. Townsend was given the nickname Mule because of his sturdy physique and character. In St Louis, he would work with some of the early blues pioneers such as J. D. Short.
In 1929, Townsend recorded for the first time. He continued to record throughout his career and would record with various labels including Columbia Records and Folkways Records.
In 1960, Paul Oliver recorded an interview with Townsend which he would use extensively in his 1967 work "Conversations with the Blues". Thirty years later, Bill Greensmith edited thirty hours of tape interviews with Townsend to produce a full autobiography.
In 1985, Townsend received the National Heritage Fellowship in recognition of being a master artist.
In 1995, Townsend was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
By the mid-1990s, Townsend and Yank Rachell, who he had collaborated with before, were the only active blues artists who had started their careers in the 1920s.
In 2006, Townsend made his last recordings.
On 24/09/2006, Townsend died at St Mary's Ozaukee Hospital, Mequon, Wisconsin. Only a few hours earlier, he had become the first person to be presented with a key in Grafton's Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame.
In 2008, Townsend was posthumously awarded a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album fo his performances on "Last o the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas".
In 2009, Townsend was added to the Mississippi Blues Trail.