Memphis SlimMemphis Slim was born in Memphis, Tennessee on September 3, 1915. His full birth name was John Lee Chatman. In 1940 he made his first recordings, under the name of his father Peter Chatman, who himself was a musician. He performed with the name "Memphis Slim" later the same year, but still would publish his songs under the name Peter Chatman.
In the 1930s he performed in honky-tonks, dance halls and gambling joints in West Memphis, Arkansas and southeast Missouri.
In 1939 he settled in Chicago and began regularly joining Big Bill Broonzy in clubs.
In 1940 and 1941 he recorded "Beer Drinking Woman" and "Grinder Man Blues" for Bluebird Records. Slim became a regular session musician with Bluebird. He played on records by John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, Washboard Sam and Jazz Gillum among others. He would regularly record with Broonzy after the death of his accompanist Joshua Altheimer in 1940.
After World War II with jump blues becoming popular, Slim led bands with saxophones, bass, drums and piano.
In 1945 he recorded with trios for Hy-Tone Records.
In 1946 he signed with the label Miracle, with a saxophone, tenor sax, piano and string bass lineup. One of the first recordings was the song "Rockin' the House". They based the band name Slim and the House Rockers on the song and recorded with Miracle to 1949. Among the recorded songs were "Messin' Around" and "Harlem Bound". In 1947 Slim was brought by Alan Lomax to record for Decca Records.
In 1949 added a drummer to the group and recorded for King Records and Peacock Records.
In 1950 Miracle suffered financially and regroup to form the Premium label. Slim stayed on, but it folded the next year. During his time with Premium he recorded "Mother Earth".
After spending a year with Mercury Records he signed with United Records, with his band now including Matt "Guitar" Murphy. He remained with United till the end of 1954.
In 1958 he signed with Vee-Jay Records. In 1959 he released the album "Memphis Slim at the Gate of the Horn".
In 1960 he toured outside of the US for the first time with Willie Dixie. With Dixon he would release several albums including "Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon at the Village Gate with Pete Seeger.
In 1962 he moved to Paris. He would become popular in europe, appearing on tv in various European countries. He would team up with jazz drummer George Collier and they would tour Europe together.
In 1986 he was named Commander in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of France and he was honoured by the US as an Ambassador-at-Large of Good Will.
Memphis Slim died of renal failure on February 24, 1988 in Paris, France.
In 1989 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
In 2015 he was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.