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Uploaded on Jul 16, 2008
Recorded: Chicago, August 7, 1940 Brownie McGhee (vcl) (acc) (g), Jordan Webb (h)
Walter Brown ("Brownie") McGhee (November 30, 1915 - February 16, 1996) was a folk-blues singer and guitarist, best known for his collaborations with the harmonica player Sonny Terry. He grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee and suffered from polio as a child, which incapacitated his leg. His brother Granville "Sticks" McGhee got his nickname from pushing young Brownie around in a cart. McGhee spent much of his youth immersed in music, singing with local harmony group the Golden Voices Gospel Quartet and teaching himself the guitar. A March of Dimes funded operation on his leg enabled McGhee to walk, enhancing his mobility.
At the age of 22 he became a traveling musician, working in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and meeting and befriending Blind Boy Fuller, whose guitar playing influenced him greatly. After Fuller's death in 1941, J. B. Long of Columbia Records had him adopt his mentor's name, branding him "Blind Boy Fuller No.2". By that time, McGhee was recording for Columbia's subsidiary Okeh Records in Chicago, Illinois, but his real success did not come until his 1942 relocation to New York City, when he officially teamed up with Sonny Terry, who he had known since 1939 as Blind Boy Fuller's harmonica player. The pairing was an overnight success, recording and touring together until around 1980. They did most of their work together from 1958 until 1980, spending eleven months of each year touring, and recording dozens of albums.
Despite their fame as "pure" folk artists plying for White audiences, in the 1940s Terry and McGhee also attempted to be successful Black recording performers, fronting a jump blues combo with honking saxophone and/or rolling piano that was variously called Brownie McGhee and his Jook House Rockers or Sonny Terry and his Buckshot Five, often with Champion Jack Dupree and Big Chief Ellis. They also appeared in the original Broadway productions of Finian's Rainbow and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.