Lead Belly (1885-1949), born Huddie Ledbetter, revolutionized the folk and blues genres by turning personal pain and violence into unmistakable, guitar-driven song.

Growing up Lead Belly led a musical life, playing the harmonica, accordion, 6- and 12-string guitar, and bass while learning songs through oral tradition.




John Lee Curtis "Sonny Boy" Williamson (1914-1948) was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter. He is often regarded as the pioneer of the blues harp as a solo instrument.

Williamson's harmonica style was a great influence on postwar performers. He was one of the most recorded blues musicians of the 1930s and 1940s.




Willie Mae Thornton (1926-1984), best known as Big Mama Thornton, was a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who provided original recordings of some of popular music’s biggest all-time hits.

She recorded "Hound Dog" in 1953 which went on to sell half a million copies and reach #1 on the R&B charts, a mere 3 years before Elvis Presley recorded his version.




Take in the incredible music of these artists and more with Elderly Instrument's Spotify playlist celebrating Black History Month!


Leroy Jenkins (1932-2007) thought outside the grand staff and turned the violin into an avant-garde vehicle for free Jazz. Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Jenkins started playing the violin at age 7 at one of the city’s largest churches, accompanied by a young Dinah Washington on piano. By high school, Leroy added the saxophone to his repertoire before attending Florida A & M University on a bassoon scholarship. It was there that he played the clarinet and saxophone, and the bassoon, before returning to studying the violin. He pushed the musical envelope early on in his career, joining various collectives and ensembles who melded facets of free-form Jazz and more traditional, familiar musical elements, such as the stringed instrument he so expertly played—the violin. This innovative energy defined his career even as he became a bandleader and wrote music for classical ensembles.

Described perfectly by the New York Times, Leroy Jenkins “worked on and around the lines between jazz and classical music.”




Johnny St. Cyr (1890-1966) composed, played, and revolutionized Jazz banjo and guitar music. After growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, Johnny went on to play for various prominent local bands before moving to Chicago in 1923.

From there, St. Cyr joined many esteemed Jazz acts: Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven, Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers, and King Oliver. Johnny was the bandleader for the Young Men from New Orleans until his death.



Alonzo "Lonnie" Johnson (1899–1970) was an American blues and jazz singer, guitarist, violinist and songwriter. He was a pioneer of jazz guitar and jazz violin. He pioneered the guitar solo on the track "6/88 Glide", and excelled at purely instrumental pieces.

Johnson's early recordings are the first guitar recordings that display a single-note soloing style with string bending and vibrato. Johnson pioneered this style of guitar playing on records, and his influence is obvious in the playing of Django Reinhardt, T-Bone Walker and many electric blues guitarists.




William James Dixon (1915–1992) was an American blues musician, vocalist, songwriter, arranger and record producer. He played the upright bass and the guitar, and sang with a distinctive voice. He is perhaps best known as one of the most prolific songwriters of his time.

Dixon was an important link between the blues and rock and roll. He has received a Grammy Award and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.




Etta Baker (1913-2006) masterfully played the Piedmont blues on multiple instruments for nearly 90 years.

Baker’s first recordings appeared on Paul Clayton’s album ‘Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians’ in 1956 and is said to have inspired other prolific artists such as Taj Mahal and Bob Dylan. Etta further cultivated the classic two-finger picking style of guitar playing that has often defined Piedmont Blues, following in the footsteps of fellow North Carolina native Elizabeth Cotten. She beautifully played familiar rhythms with warm, intricate picking until her death at 93.




Muddy Waters (1915-1983) developed an electrifying, sensual breed of the blues that laid the groundwork for rock stars of generations to come. Fleeing the racial oppression of the South, Muddy traveled to Chicago and worked odd jobs while booking gigs in the evenings. His acoustic guitar was easily drowned out in the noisy clubs so he switched over to the electric guitar in 1945—a choice that would change the history of the blues forever.





Elmore James (1918 –1963) was an American blues guitarist, singer, songwriter and bandleader. He was known as "King of the Slide Guitar" and was noted for his use of loud amplification and his stirring voice. James played a wide variety of blues which often crossed into other styles of music. For his contributions to music, James was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. 




Gustavus "Gus" Cannon (1883 or 1884 – 1979) was an American blues musician who helped to popularize jug bands (such as his own Cannon's Jug Stompers) in the 1920s and 1930s. At the age of 12 he taught himself to play a banjo that he made from a frying pan and a raccoon skin. Soon after, guitarist Alec Lee taught Cannon his first folk blues, "Po' Boy, Long Ways from Home", and showed him how to use a knife blade as a slide, a technique that Cannon adapted to his banjo playing.



Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten (1893–1987) was an American blues and folk musician, singer, and songwriter. A self-taught left-handed guitarist, Cotten developed her own original style. She played a guitar strung for a right-handed player, but played it upside down, as she was left-handed. This position meant that she would play the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb. Her signature alternating bass style has become known as "Cotten picking".




Albert Gene Drewery, known as Albert Collins and the Ice Man (1932 – 1993), was an American electric blues guitarist and singer noted for his powerful playing and his use of altered tunings and a capo. His long association with the Fender Telecaster led to the title "The Master of the Telecaster".

Rolling Stone ranked Collins at number 56 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists.




Charley Frank Pride (1934 – 2020) was an American singer, guitarist, and professional baseball player. His greatest musical success came in the early to mid 1970s, when he was the best-selling performer for RCA Records since Elvis Presley. During the peak years of his recording career (1966–1987), he had 52 top-10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, 30 of which made it to number one.



Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) innovated the Gospel genre by incorporating spiritual lyrics into rhythm and blues accompaniment, creating a blueprint for rock and roll. One of her first singles, “Rock Me” inspired the likes of Elvis Presley and Little Richard. Without her use of rhythmic distortion on her signature Gibson SG during a European tour with Muddy Waters in 1964, the British Blues scene of the 1960s may have never been.




Dom Flemons (1982-present) is an old-time, neo-country, and blues renaissance artist, playing many instruments, singing, writing songs, and acting with a talent and candor that cannot be duplicated. Dom recorded five albums and one EP with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Their 2010 album, Genuine Negro Jig, earned them a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album.

After leaving the band in 2013, Flemons released solo albums with modern, inspired takes on historical works and performed across the globe, from Carnegie Hall to Malaysia. He continues to perform and record today, and hosts a podcast, The American Songster, when he’s not on stage.




Jake Blount (1995-present) is a remarkably gifted banjo and fiddle player, singer, songwriter, and scholar who expertly blends the stories of queer people and People of Color with old-time music in a modern modality.

He’s released collaborative work with fiddle player Libby Weitnauer under the moniker Tui and a critically-acclaimed solo album, ‘Spider Tales’, that debuted at #2 on the Billboard Bluegrass Chart.




Rhiannon Giddens (1977-present) is an American musician. She is a founding member of the country, blues and old-time music band Carolina Chocolate Drops, where she is the lead singer, fiddle player, and banjo player.

In addition to her work with the Grammy-winning Chocolate Drops, Giddens has released two solo albums: Tomorrow Is My Turn (2015) and Freedom Highway (2017). Her latest album, There Is No Other (2019), is a collaboration with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi.



Memphis Minnie (1897-1973), born Lizzie Douglas, was an independent country blues singer, songwriter, and guitar player who blazed the way for female country artists in a male-dominated industry.

Memphis Minnie's recording career lasted for over three decades. She recorded around 200 songs, some of the best known being "Bumble Bee", "Nothing in Rambling", and "Me and My Chauffeur Blues".

Despite Minnie’s health declining by the end of the 1950s, she never gave up on her music and continued to occasional radio appearances to encourage young musicians in Memphis.




Johnny “Man” Young (1918-1974) transformed mandolin playing in American blues music’s postwar era. Originating from Vicksburg, Mississippi, Johnny played in local string bands throughout the 30s before moving to Chicago in the 1940. Just three years later he was playing with Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters

Near the end of that decade, Young made a name for himself on Maxwell Street by playing in clubs with his cousin, guitarist Johnny Williams, and Little Walter.
Johnny was one of the few mandolin artists on the Blues scene post-World War II, and remains one of the only prominent Black mandolin players in the history of the Blues genre.




Arnold Shultz (1886–1931) was an American fiddler and guitarist noted as a major influence in the development of the "thumb-style," or "Travis picking" method of playing guitar. He developed a jazzy "thumb-style" method of playing guitar that eventually evolved into the Kentucky style for which such musicians as Chet Atkins, Doc Watson and Merle Travis would be known. Though he was not recorded, his blues playing made a powerful influence. Bill Monroe, who was formative in the development of bluegrass music, has openly cited Shultz as an influence on his playing. His methods were passed down further to Merle Travis and Ike Everly.




Deborah Coleman (1956 – 2018) was an American blues musician. Coleman won the Orville Gibson Award for "Best Blues Guitarist, Female" in 2001

Coleman's Blind Pig debut, I Can't Lose (1997), was an album of ballads, blues stories, guitar playing and singing. The album Soul Be It (2002) included the opener "Brick", "My Heart Bleeds Blue", "Don't Lie to Me," and a jump blues track, "I Believe". These was followed by What About Love? (2004) and Stop the Game (2007). Time Bomb (2007) featured three women blues musicians: Coleman, Sue Foley and Roxanne Potvin.




Papa Charlie Jackson (1887 – 1938) was an early American bluesman and songster who accompanied himself with a banjo guitar, a guitar, or a ukulele. His recording career began in 1924. While much of his life remains a mystery, Jackson was an influential figure in blues music. He was the first self-accompanied blues musician to make records,. He wrote or was the first to record several songs that became blues standards, including "All I Want Is a Spoonful" and "Salty Dog".




A Montreal-born Grenadian-Canadian, Kaia Kater grew up between two worlds: her family’s deep ties to folk music and the years she spent soaking up Appalachian music in West Virginia. Her old-time banjo-picking skills, deft arrangements, and songwriting abilities have landed her in the spotlight in North America and the UK, garnering critical acclaim from outlets such as NPR, CBC Radio, Rolling Stone, BBC Music, and No Depression.



Taj Mahal (1942-present) created his own brand of the blues, infusing world music into his many works as a multi-instrumentalist and composer. Taj was immersed in music from day one. His father, Henry St. Clair Fredericks Sr., was an Afro-Cuban pianist and jazz composer and his mother was a member of their local gospel choir.

In his college years, he fatefully chose his stage name of “Taj Mahal” which he gathered from dreams of Gandhi and India. A move to California in 1964 earned Taj more exposure to the blues rock scene, providing the opportunity for this first band, Rising Sons, to form. They quickly dissolved and Mahal went on to record solo throughout the 70s, an era when he began to mix West Indian, Caribbean, Latin, and reggae music with his signature bluesy grit. It was this sound, coupled with his signature style of fingerpicking leading with the thumb and middle finger, that set him apart and made him the legend that he is today. Taj Mahal continues to release music and delight his fans in concert across the globe.




Clarence Smith, known as Sonny Rhodes, is an American blues singer and lap steel guitar player. He has recorded over two hundred songs. "I'm what you call a self-proclaimed Disciple of the Blues!" said Rhodes about his years playing and singing for fans of blues around the world.

Frustrated with the San Francisco Bay area record companies, he recorded "Cigarette Blues" on his own label, Rhodes-Way Records, in 1978. Since then he has released many blues albums and toured widely in the US, Canada and Europe. His most recent record, The Essential Sonny Rhodes – Songs & Stories, on Need To Know Music is a retrospective of his career to date.




Otis Rush Jr. (1934 –2018) was an American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter. His distinctive guitar style featured a slow-burning sound and long bent notes. With qualities similar to the styles of other 1950s artists Magic Sam and Buddy Guy, his sound became known as West Side Chicago blues and was an influence on many musicians, including Michael Bloomfield, Peter Green and Eric Clapton.

Rush was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984. In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Rush number 53 on its 100 Greatest Guitarists list, and The Jazz Foundation of America honored Rush with a Lifetime Achievement Award on April 20, 2018 "for a lifetime of genius and leaving an indelible mark in the world of blues and the universal language of music.”




Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), born Johnny Allen Hendrix, carved out an unparalleled path with his left-handed guitar in rock and roll music, forever changing the instrument and popular music.

During the early and mid-'60s, he played with the Isley Brothers’, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Tina Turner. In 1966, he formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience and by 1967 he was an international superstar.

Jimi took Woodstock by storm in the summer of ’69 with his psychedelic, incendiary take on the ‘Star Spangled Banner” just one year before his death in 1970. His final studio album was released posthumously 1997, titled ‘First Rays of the New Rising Sun’. It became one of many after-death works released by his estate, reminding us of his awe-inspiring musical prowess year after year.




Riley B. King (1925-2015), known professionally as B.B. King, was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer. He introduced a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bending, shimmering vibrato and staccato picking that influenced many later blues electric guitar players. AllMusic recognized King as "the single most important electric guitarist of the last half of the 20th century".

King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and is one of the most influential blues musicians of all time, earning the nickname "The King of the Blues", and is considered one of the "Three Kings of the Blues Guitar" (along with Albert King and Freddie King, none of whom are blood related). King performed tirelessly throughout his musical career, appearing on average at more than 200 concerts per year into his 70s. In 1956 alone, he appeared at 342 shows.