Little Milton Campbell was an accomplished blues musician. A performer known for his extraordinary technique, soulful voice, and unique blend of musical styles, Milton was also admired for his staying power. A talented musician and shrewd businessman, he recorded and performed consistently for over 50 years. While Milton may not have developed the clearly identifiable sound of some of his peers, which may explain why he never became a "top forty" favorite, he managed to use his extraordinary musical skills to change with the times. Until his death in 2005, Milton provided his audiences with contemporary music while staying true to his Mississippi Delta roots. Whether performing a solo with an acoustic guitar or playing an electric guitar backed by keyboard, bass, and drums, Little Milton was an authentic, grassroots blues artist.
Milton first made it big in 1965, when he recorded "We're Gonna Make It," a song that hit home during the height of the Civil Rights Era. It remained number one on Billboard magazine's R&B singles chart for many weeks. An accomplished songwriter, Milton wrote many well known songs, including "Grits Ain't Groceries" and "If Walls Could Talk." The song that helped define him as a blues legend was "The Blues Is Alright," unofficially recognized as the "International Blues Anthem." In 1988 Little Milton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and won the W.C. Handy Award for Blues Entertainer of the Year.
Named after his father, Milton Campbell, a man who supported his family by farming and playing in local blues bands, James Milton Campbell was born on September 7, 1934, and came to be known as "Little Milton." He was born in sharecropper housing just outside of the small town of Inverness, Mississippi, but was raised in Greenville, farther north on the Mississippi River. Milton grew up listening to his father and several other musicians play the regional, gospel-tinged blues that evolved in the Mississippi Delta area during the first few decades of the 1900s. He also loved to listen to The Grand Ole Opry on the radio, and became familiar with the sounds of country and western music at a young age.
When Milton was about 12 years old, he picked cotton and did odd jobs around the neighborhood, scraping together enough money to send away for a Roy Rogers-style guitar he had seen in a mail-order catalogue. Once he had his guitar, Little Milton taught himself to play by watching and listening to other blues artists at picnics and house parties. He played anywhere he could, on street corners, in alleys, and at public gatherings. Within a few years, after acquiring a repertoire, he made his way into white honky-tonks and black clubs in the Greenville area, often making a wage of $1.50 per night.