African American Folk Music Artists You Need to Know

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Here are five African American folk music artists you need to know about. From incredible vocalists to skilled guitarists, these artists are making their mark on the music scene.

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Blind Lemon Jefferson was an African American folk musician who was popular in the 1920s. He was born in Texas in 1893 and began playing the guitar at a young age. Jefferson’s style of playing was unique and he became one of the most popular blues musicians of his time. He recorded over 90 songs and influenced many other artists.

His life

Blind Lemon Jefferson was an American blues and gospel singer and musician who was active in the 1920s. He is one of the most renowned and influential figures in blues history, having created a powerful and distinctive style that has inspired countless other musicians.

Born in Golconda, Texas, in either 1893 or 1894, he began his musical career singing on the streets of Dallas. He soon began to perform at local juke joints and parties, where he quickly developed a following. His first recordings were made in 1926, and they immediately became hits. Over the next few years, he recorded more than 100 songs, many of which are now considered classics.

Jefferson died tragically young, in 1929, but his legend has only grown in the decades since his death. His music continues to inspire new generations of performers, and his legacy is firmly established as one of the giants of the blues.

His music

Blind Lemon Jefferson was an African American blues and gospel singer, songwriter and musician who was active in the 1920s. He was one of the most popular musicians of his time and has been described as the ” Father of the Texas Blues “. Jefferson’s recordings sold well, but he was not a prolific songwriter and did not achieve the same level of commercial success as some of his contemporaries. His unique style combined elements of blues, gospel and ragtime and had a significant influence on later musicians.

Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith was one of the most popular and influential blues singers of the 1920s and ’30s. She was known for her powerful voice and her ability to convey emotion through her music. Her style of singing was influenced by the music of the African American church. She is considered one of the pioneers of blues music.

Her life

Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on April 15, 1894. Her parents were William and Laura Smith. Bessie had seven brothers and sisters, but only she and her brother Clara survived childhood. When Bessie was nine years old, her brother Clara died, and Bessie began to sing in the streets to help support her family. She soon became known as the “Empress of the Blues” for her powerful voice and heartfelt performances.

Bessie began her recording career in 1923, and over the next decade she released more than 160 records. She was one of the most popular musicians of her time, and her records sold millions of copies. But despite her success, Bessie was paid very little for her work. In 1927, she was paid only $750 for one of her biggest hits, “Downhearted Blues” (compared to the $10,000 that was paid to white singer Mamie Smith for a similar song).

Bessie continued to perform and record until her death in 1937. She left a lasting legacy as one of the greatest blues singers of all time.

Her music

Bessie Smith was one of the most important and influential blues singers of the 1920s and ’30s. She was sometimes called the “Empress of the Blues.” She was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on April 15, 1894, into a poor family. Her parents were William and Laura Smith. Bessie had eleven brothers and sisters.

As a child, she listened to the music of black workers in the fields and on the streets. When she was eight years old, her mother died. Her father could not take care of all his children, so Bessie went to live with her older sister Daisy in Chattanooga. Daisy worked as a maid in a rich white family’s home. Bessie began singing for tips on the streets near where her sister worked.

At the age of eighteen, Bessie moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with another sister, Viola. There she met a man named Clarence Williams. Williams was a music publisher and composer. He gave Bessie some songs to sing and helped her get started in show business.

Robert Johnson

One of the most famous and influential American folk music artists, Robert Johnson was an African American blues singer and musician who lived in the early 20th century. Although he only recorded a handful of songs, his music has been hugely influential, particularly on the development of rock and roll. Let’s take a closer look at the life and work of this important folk music artist.

His life

Robert Johnson was an American blues singer and musician. His landmark recordings in 1936 and 1937 display a combination of singing, guitar skills, and songwriting talent that has influenced later generations of musicians. Johnson’s shadowy, poorly documented life and death at age 27 have given rise to much legend.

Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, in May 1911. He grew up in a rural area playing the blues on homemade instruments. He married sixteen-year-old Vit鄞a Davis in 1929, but she left him soon afterward. She later said he was too young and immature for marriage. In 1930 or 1931 he began an affair with Caletta Craft, who gave birth to his first son, Claud.

Johnson left Hazlehurst in search of work around this time and ended up in Memphis, Tennessee. During his time there he met many influential blues musicians, such as Ike Zimmerman and Will Seeden. He also gained a reputation as a skilled guitarist. In 1934 he returned to Mississippi and settled in Robinsonville (now part of Tunica). It was here that he met Sonny Boy Williamson II, with whom he would have a long musical association.

In 1936 Johnson made his first recordings in San Antonio, Texas. These songs “Kind Hearted Woman Blues” and “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” became blues classics. He returned to Mississippi after the recording sessions. Over the next year or so he traveled around the state performing at juke joints and dances with other famous blues artists such as Willie Brown and Little Walter Jacobs.

In late 1936 or early 1937 Johnson returned to Texas to make more recordings, this time in Dallas. The songs “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Cross Road Blues” were among those recorded during this session. The following year he made his final recordings in Virginia; these were released posthumously after his death.

On August 13, 1938, Johnson died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 27 near Greenwood, Mississippi

His music

Born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, in 1911, Robert Johnson was a giant of the blues. His style was deeply influential and can be heard in the work of countless artist that followed him, including Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. At just 27 years old, Johnson only recorded 29 songs, but those songs would go on to change the course of popular music forever.

Johnson’s music is characterized by its simplicity and emotion. He often used just three chords in his songs, but he played them with such feeling that his music transcended its technical limitations. His lyrics were often dark and full of images of Hell and the Devil, which added to the intensity of his performances.

In addition to his work as a solo artist, Johnson was also an innovative collaborator. He frequently performed with fellow Mississippi bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson II, and their recordings are some of the most memorable in all of blues history.

If you’re interested in learning more about Robert Johnson and his legacy, there are plenty of resources available online and in print. Start with his official website, which features a comprehensive biography, discography and filmography. You can also find helpful resources at the Robert Johnson Foundation and the Blues Foundation.

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