Blind Willie Johnson (1902 – 1945)

“O, Christ is my burden bearer, He`s my only friend

`til the end of my sorrow, He tells me to lean on Him.

I`ll take His yoke upon me and live a Christian life;

take Jesus for my Savior, my burden will be light.”

On this day…

in the year 1902…

deep in the heart of Texas…

…was born one of the greatest Musical geniuses of all time, Blind Willie Johnson.

Renowned for his innovative usage of instrumentation and vocal performance, he is also a seminal figure amongst Blues Musicians – as well as, those that were later termed the “Guitar Evangelists”. Furthermore, his influence encompasses every singer/songwriter that has come after him.

Though many scholars believe his Music straddled the border between Blues and Spirituals, his lyrics were entirely of a spiritual and religious nature – while additionally drawing from both Sacred and Blues traditions. Among Musicians, he is considered one of the greatest slide or bottleneck Guitar artists who ever lived, as well as one of the most revered figures of Depression-era Gospel Music. His Music is distinguishable by his powerful bass strumming and gravelly false-bass voice, with occasional use of a tenor voice.

Willie Johnson was born in Marlin, Texas (east of Waco) or he, at the very least, grew up there. Although he was not born blind, it is widely believed that his stepmother (in a fit of rage) blinded him when he was seven years old by throwing lye in his face.

Like many destitute people with physical disabilities at the time, Blind Willie Johnson earned his living from Music. His father would often leave him on street corners to sing for money, where his powerful voice left an indelible impression on passers-by. Legend has it that he was almost arrested for starting a riot out in front of a New Orleans brothel with a powerful rendition of If I Had My Way I`d Tear The Building Down – a song about Samson and Delilah.

He made approximately thirty commercial recording studio record sides for Columbia Records from 1927 through 1930. His records have kept his Music tremendously influential and his songs have been covered by several popular artists, including Led Zeppelin, Beck, and the White Stripes (all of whom covered John the Revelator).

Some of his most famous recordings include his rendition of the famous Gospel song Let Your Light Shine On Me, as well as the raw, powerful Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground, about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

In addition, Blind Willie Johnson`s recording of Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground was included on the “Golden Record” – an audio recording sent into deep Space with the Voyager spacecraft in 1977.

However, Johnson never lived to receive much financial recompense for his Music. Aside from whatever “tithes” he might have been given for playing during church services or the alms dropped into his tin cup as he sang the Gospel on street-corners, Blind Willie Johnson died in poverty. Sitting amid the ashes of a home that had been torched by Klansmen, he contracted pneumonia and died two weeks thereafter.

Nevertheless, like Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Hndel, the Music of Blind Willie Johnson lives on to this day…


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