Robert Johnson Birthplace
Backstory and Context
Robert Johnson is possibly the most recognized and renowned blues musician of all time. Johnson influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to BB King. Robert Johnson is also one of the most mysterious blues figures in music history. With three separate gravesites and numerous debates on which one is the actual grave of Robert Johnson just adds to the mystery. Needless to say, Robert Johnson has had a profound impact on the blues and continues to do so.
Robert Johnson may have three separate gravesites, but what we do know for certain is where he was born and raised. He was born on the northern outskirts of Hazlehurst, Mississippi. Born on May 8th, 1911, Johnson’s family moved to Memphis shortly after he was born. It was here where he first heard the blues as a child. In the 1930’s Johnson returned to his hometown and mastered his skills as a guitar player. It is here where the most famous legend about any blues player was created. When Johnson moved to Memphis he had just begun to play guitar. When he returned to Hazlehurst he had improved in leaps and bounds and was quickly making a name for himself in the area. People began to speculate that he didn’t go to Memphis at all. They formulated the legend that has been referenced in movies and music alike. As the legend goes, it is believed that Johnson was at a crossroads in Mississippi. It is here where he met the Devil who told Johnson if he sold him his soul he would make him the greatest guitar player in the south. Johnson disappeared for a long period of time and returned as a guitar master. Thus the legend of Robert Johnson and the crossroads was born. Now we can clearly see that the amount of time he was gone was due to his moving to Memphis, which is where he improved his playing abilities. But in the world of blues music most people like to believe the legend as fact. Perhaps only to add more intrigue and fascination in the music and its history.
As Robert Johnson began to get more and more attention he decided to try and make a career in music. His twenty-nine recordings from 1936-37 is widely regarded as an artistic high point in blues history. This large amount of recordings in a short amount of time only added to his legend. His most popular hits include “Traveling Riverside Blues, Love in Vain, Ramblin’ on My Mind, Kindhearted Woman”, and my personal favorite “Me and the Devil”. While the song is quite vulgar by the standards of the time it helped propel Johnson to major popularity in the south. The title “Me and the Devil” only added more fuel to his legends fire.
Johnson has influenced many different blues musicians. Most of them that were influenced were the older generations of blues musicians. But in the genre of Blues music there is a long chain of songs, techniques, and influences that have been passed down for many years. Eric Clapton has said on numerous occasions that Robert Johnson is one of his biggest influences. Eric Clapton wasn’t born until the 1940s. Johnson died on August 16, 1938 in Greenwood, Mississippi. So we can see that several years after his death he was still influencing some of the greatest musicians in the world. The causes of Johnson’s death are unknown, as is his actual final resting place. Many believe that he was taken by the Devil who came to collect on the debt Johnson owed him. Perhaps we will never know the truth behind Robert Johnson and his incredible guitar playing.
In closing, Robert Johnson is revered as possibly the greatest blues musician to ever live. Throw in a few legends about him selling his soul to the devil and a large amount of records in a short period of time and we can see why. Even though Johnson died in 1938 he is still influencing young musicians to this very day. The legend of Robert Jonson lives on through his music.
Johnson, S.. Biography. Robert Johnson Blues Foundation. Accessed November 12, 2017. http://www.robertjohnsonbluesfoundation.org/biography/.