Do You Know Your Blind Bluesmen?

July 13th, 2011, byJeremy Freed

As a longtime fan of the Delta blues, I’ve always been at least partially aware that a disproportionate number of its greats were blind. This never struck me as particularly odd, for some reason, until recently. I posed the question to the oracle of our times, and what do you know? Unsurprisingly, as with even the strangest questions one feeds to Google, I was not the first to wonder about this.

As it turns out, finding information on blind musicians throughout history was a little more complicated. Other than a decent-sized writeup on the Internet’s other great oracle–which points to an historical tradition of blind musicians in Chinese, Japanese, Ukranian and Irish cultures, not to mention the American South–there wasn’t much to be found. The answer, however, appears to be fairly simple: when you’re blind, it’s hard to find work, and this was especially true in the bygone days.

Now, it’s easy to go thanking widespread discrimination for providing us with the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Blake and Reverend Gary Davis–guys who undoubtedly made the world a better place, at least musically–but that leaves out a whole swath of kids who weren’t lucky enough to be born with such musical aptitude, and I can’t help wondering what kinds of things they got up to. Hopefully they managed okay, and hopefully you make some time to listen to some blind bluesmen in the near future. They’re pretty great.

Last modified: July 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm