Music History

Music History Biographies

Music History Of The Week

Music History Calendar

Memphis Minnie

On 03/06/1897: Memphis Minnie was born. Her birth name was Lizzie Douglas, but she disliked the name Lizzie and her parents would call her Kid. So when she started performing she played under the name Kid Douglas. At the age of 7, her family moved to Walls, Mississippi, south of Memphis. The next year she got her first guitar as a Christmas present. By age 10 she learned banjo and by 11 she learned guitar.
In 1910 at the age of 13 she ran away from home to live on Beale Street in Memphis, where she would play on street corners. She would still occasionally return to her family's farm when she ran out of money. The performances in Memphis led to a tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus from 1916 to 1920. After the tour finished she went back to Beale street to carry on performing guitar. She also worked as a prostitute to make ends meet.
In 1929 she started to perform with her second husband Joe McCoy. They were discovered by Columbia Records and went to New York to record. The A&R man at Columbia renamed them as Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie.
In 1930 they recorded "Bumble Bee" for Vocalion. It became one of her most popular songs. Minnie and McCoy would record for Vocalion till 1934. They then recorded a few sessions for Decca Records. They split up in late 1934 and divorced in 1935.
By 1935 Minnie was established in Chicago and would work regularly with producer and scout Lester Melrose. She started to experiment with different styles. She started to record for Bluebird Records as well as Vocalion.
In 1938 she recorded with Charlie McCoy (Kansas Joe's Brother) on mandolin. She married Ernest Lawlars, who's stage name was Little Son Joe. Little Son would record guitar on Minnie's records, starting in 1939. Together they would record in the 1940's for Okeh Records. They would often perform live in Chicago's 708 club, where they were often joined by Big Bill Broonzy, Sunnyland Slim and Snooky Pryor. Minnie would also often play at "Blue Monday" parties at Ruby Lee Gatewood's. By 1941 Minnie was playing an electric guitar which gave her a harder and stronger sound.
By the late 1940's she was living in Indianapolis and Detroit. In the 1950's she returned to Chicago and had started recording with smaller labels like Regal, Checker and J.O.B.
In 1957 she retired from music and she and Lawlars moved back to Memphis. She would continue to encourage young artists and played a memorial concert for Big Bill Broonzy.
In 1960 she suffered a stroke. Lawlars died the next year and Minnie had another stroke shortly after that. She moved to Jell Nursing Home in Memphis, before passing away in 1973.

The Music History Calendar is written by the Blues Rock artist Marshland Pete
If you would like more, come join our Music News and History Facebook Group Community