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. After her family, including 13 children, moved to Walls, Mississippi just south of Memphis, Tennessee, 7-year-old Minnie received her first guitar for Christmas. By age 10, she was playing the guitar and a year later she’d picked up the banjo.
A few years later, a 13-year-old Minnie ran away to live on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. There she played on street corners for cash and found an opportunity to tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus from 1916 to 1920. After working odd jobs for several years, Minnie returned to playing music in 1929 with her husband at the time, Joe McCoy. One day as they were playing for dimes in front of a local barber shop, a Columbia Records executive happened to be in the area and they were discovered. Joe and Minnie were whisked away to New York City and given new stage names by a Columbia Records A & R executive: Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie.
The duo released a series of records together, including the popular “Bumble Bee” that Minnie would go on to sing solo for the remainder of her career after their divorce in 1935. She continued to record and tour throughout the following two decades, visiting the South and returning to bigger cities like Detroit and Chicago. Despite Minnie’s health declining by the end of the 1950s, she never gave up on her guitar or her music and continued to make the occasional radio appearance to encourage young musicians in Memphis.