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Along with Little Walter Jacobs, Sonny Boy Williamson redefined the role of the harmonica in modern blues. Williamson, whose real name was Aleck Miller, created a symphony of sounds and tones from the simple blues harp. Williamson's phrasing of notes and his use of the microphone as an extension of the instrument gave his solos a rare quality, rich in innovation. Williamson was also a competent blues singer, though he slurred his lyrics, using them only, it seemed, as a backdrop to his harp riffs. Also known as Sonny Boy #2 to distinguish him from John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson (or Sonny Boy #1), another great blues harp stylist, Williamson was born in Mississippi, where he learned to play harmonica at an early age. Ever the hustler, Williamson convinced the manager at the Helena, Arkansas radio station KFFA to let him perform live on the air each midday. In return for a short performance and promotion of King Biscuit Flour, the show's sponsor, Williamson and guitarist Robert Lockwood were able to advertise their nightly gigs. The show's authentic downhome blues became a huge hit with black audiences. Never one to stay put, Williamson often drifted around the South, performing at juke joints and house parties, hustling a living. In 1951 he cut seminal sides for the fledgling Trumpet label before heading to Chicago, where he recorded for Chess. Sonny Boy tracks like "Cross My Heart," "Eyesight to the Blind," "Nine Below Zero," "One Way Out" and "Bye Bye Bird" are certified blues classics. In the early '60s, Williamson traveled to England to perform and record with Eric Clapton's young British blues group, the Yardbirds. Williamson died in 1965, having led a prototypical blues existence.

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