Black Widow Stinger : Memphis Minnie ©2002JCMarion


Lizzie Douglas was born before the turn of the century in Algiers, Louisiana, close to New Orleans. By the year 1910 she had learned to play the banjo and guitar and had run away from home and joined the circus - the big top - Ringling Brothers, where she performed in tent shows throughout the Southern states into the 1920s. She settled in Memphis where she adopted the name "Memphis Minnie and was based there for more than a decade. She moved to Chicago in the early forties and went in partnership with famed blues musician St. Louis Jimmy with whom she operated a blues club in Indianapolis, Indiana. Some of her better known records were " Bumble Bee" (Vocalion #1618), "Black Cat Blues" (Vocalion #03581), "Me And My Chauffeur" (Okeh #06288) and "In My Girlish Days" (Okeh #06410). From the early forties on, she recorded with her second husband Ernest Lawlars, who was known as Lil' Son Joe.

In late 1947 she recorded with Blind John Davis on piano with the tunes "Three Times Seven Blues" and "Shout The Boogie" on Columbia #38099. "Daybreak Blues" / "Million Dollar Blues" on #30120 was released the following year. In 1949 "Jump Little Rabbit" and "Tonight I Smile On You" on Columbia #30146 was issued followed later in the year by "Tears On My Pillow" and Sweet Man" on Columbia #30176.

By 1950 she was still a draw in the Midwest such as a well received booking at Chicago's 708 Club which held her over for two weeks in January. She was one of the top selling artists for the Regal label that spring, especially "Why Did I make You Cry?" on #3295 for Regal (the flip side is "Kidman Blues") recorded with the combo of Sunnyland Slim. In April Memphis Minnie and her combo plays a "Battle of the Blues bands" with Jimmie Gordon's Band at Chicago's Club Blue Flame honoring the club's anniversary. Chicago radio disc jockey Bill Hill will be the emcee.

In 1951 Memphis Minnie continues to play club dates in Chicago and Detroit, but late in the year returns to Memphis. In early 1952 in that city she records with Lil' Son Joe & his band which includes Joe Hill Louis for the Checker record label. The songs are "Broken Heart" and a remake of the Ma Rainey influenced "Me And My Chauffeur" which is released on #771. The songs "Conjur Man" and "Lake Michigan Blues" are recorded at the session but never released by Checker. There is one further recording in the early fifties, this one for the Detroit independent JOB label. The songs are "Kissing In The Dark" and "World Of Trouble" and is released on #1101.

By the year 1955, Minnie had returned to Memphis and retired from the music business. Lil' Son Joe passed away in 1961 and soon Minnie became ill and battled various ailments until she passed away in August of 1973 in her adopted home town. Lizzie Douglas as Memphis Minnie is seldom remembered today, but is an important transitional figure spanning the styles of rural country blues to the electrified urban blues style that resulted in post war rhythm & blues. Luckily there is still a wealth of recorded music preserved by this artist. Some of the best CDs of her post war work are "Early R & B of 1949 on Biograph. Another is a three volume set for Blues Classics called The Complete Post War Recordings (vol 1-3), and "Black Widow Stinger" for Indigo. A must read for fans of Minnie is "Woman With Guitar : Memphis Minnie's Blues" by Paul and Beth Garon.

If you are a fan of the R & B from the mid forties on, you owe it to yourself to discover the music of this wonderful artist if you are unfamiliar with her work. Memphis Minnie is too important a performer to be left unremembered and / or undiscovered.

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