Jazz GillumJazz Gillum was born on 11/09/1904 in Indianola, Mississippi. His full birth name was William McKinley Gillum. At the age of seven, Gillum ran away from home and lived the next few years in Charleston, Mississippi. He learnt to play the harmonica. In Charleston, he worked and played for tips on street corners.
In 1923, he moved to Chicago where he met guitarist Big Bill Broonzy. The two of them worked as a duo in nightclubs in the city.
By 1934, Gillum was recording for ARC Records and Bluebird Records.
Gillum would record under his own name and as a sideman. Many of his recordings were produced b Lester Melrose as part of the "Bluebird beat" recording in the 1930s and 1940s. Gillum's recordings were some of the earliest to feature blues with an electric guitar accompaniment.
In 1938, Gillum was accompanied by the then 16-year-old jazz guitarist George Barnes for a session. The session included the song "Reefer Headed Woman" amongst others.
In 1940, Gillum was the first person to record the blues classic "Key to the Highway" with the eight bar blues arrangement (Charlie Seger had recorded the song a few months earlier with a 12 bar arrangement). Broonzy accompanied on guitar for the record.
In 1942, Gillum joined the US Army. He served until 1945.
In 1946, Gillum recorded a version of "Look on Yonder Wall" with Big Maceo on piano.
The Bluebird label folded in the late 1940s. After its closure, Gillum made few recordings.
In 1961, Gillum made his last recordings when he recorded with Memphis Slim and singer/guitarist Arbee Stidham for Folkways Records.
On 29/03/1966, Gillum was shot in the head during a street argument. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Garfield Park Hospital, Chicago. His daughter Ardella Williams is a blues singer in Chicago.