Blind Blake - Blues Singer, guitarist (1890 - 1933)
Early finger pickin’ guitarist Blind Blake remains a mystery man of the blues. We know he was born Arthur Phelps, in Jacksonville, FL circa 1890-something and died sometime in 1933. He disappeared from the blues scene in Chicago, 1932, where he was considered the undisputed ‘King of the String,’ and had recorded over eighty solo sides for Paramount.
Being Blind, Blake earned his living in the early years, most likely playing for change on street corners, or for dances and fish fries. He headed for Chicago in the early 1920s, signing a contract with Paramount in 1926. He was regionally well known until then, but broke out into the blues mainstream once he started recording, with is debut release, "West Coast Blues". Through the late 20s, he played with the likes of Papa Charlie Jackson, Gus Cannon, and a wide range of other talents while performing as first-call guitar on Paramount’s studio A-team. His repertoire ranged from blues to rags, and he developed an intense fingerstyle guitar technique (Piedmont Style) that remains virtually unrivalled today.
From 1930-31 Blake toured with the Vaudeville show, "Happy-Go-Lucky," then back to recording in 1932. After this, Blind Blake disappears. Rumors abound about the nature of his disappearance, including ones of murder and accidental death. Logic, however, suggests that the Depression killed the race recording industry, sending Blake home to the South where he died shortly thereafter.
The Mysterious Death of Blind Blake
Excerpted from the University of North Carolina-Asheville:
At the end of his life, several blues artists speculated his death and some outrageous rumors surfaced due to this. Bob Groom reported Blake wandered the South in the years between the wars spending time recording in Chicago. He was thought to be dead, but it seems that he actually returned to Atlanta when the Depression ended his career and was killed in a streetcar accident in 1941. Bill Williams reported Blake as a heavy drinker and recalled their Monday night "rehearsals" at Blake's apartment were helped along by moonshine. Williams assumed Blake died of alcohol related causes. Josh White saw him no more after 1930 and believed he was murdered in the streets of Chicago. Big Bill Broonzy thought he died about 1932 in Joliet within sight of the prison that featured his blues. Pianist Blind John Davis believed he died in St. Louis in the 1930s, as he had been told by Tampa Red of this. Gary Davis heard that he had been run over by a streetcar in New York City in 1934, but the city records do not show he died in New York City or Atlanta at that time.