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Jimmy Witherspoon

One of the great post-war blues shouters, Jimmy Witherspoon, or 'Spoon, as he's known throughout the jazz and blues world, straddled the line between blues and jazz, becoming an integral participant in the history of both of these classic genres of American music.

Born August 8, 1923, in Gurdon, Arkansas, the young James Witherspoon sang in church choirs much like his railroad worker father. Confidence came early as he won first prize in a singing competition at the age of five. While in his teens, Witherspoon decided to try his luck pursuing a singing career and ran away to Los Angeles. It was there that he decided to become a blues singer after seeing a performance by Big Joe Turner.

Bouncing around from job to job and not having much success as a singer, Witherspoon joined the merchant marines in 1941. Moving to San Francisco in 1944, Witherspoon would sing on weekends at a club called The Waterfront in nearby Vallejo, California. Witherspoon got his big break when he was heard by bandleader Jay McShann, with whom he spent close to four years. Witherspoon eventually did go his own way with, leaving McShann's band to record as a soloist for the Supreme label. In 1949, after a few recordings that went nowhere, 'Spoon recorded a version of “Ain't Nobody's Business,” which would become his signature song and featured McShann and others from the old band, went to number one on the R&B charts and stayed on the charts for 34 months, longer than any previous R&B tune. Witherspoon's next release, “In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down,” reached the number five spot, following this, 'Spoon released a number of albums on a variety of labels including Modern, Federal, and the legendary Chess label.

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