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Blind Lemon Jefferson

Blind Lemon Jefferson


The seventh and youngest child of sharecroppers Alex and Clarisa Jefferson, Lemon was born in 1894 or 1895 where the family was farming, around Streetman, Texas. Many say that he was blind from birth, but that has not been confirmed. Not much else is known about Lemon’s early life, other than he must have been aware of players like Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas and “Texas” Alexander who were traveling and playing around East Texas at that time. Around 1904 Lemon began to perform himself. His cousin, Alec Jefferson has been quoted as saying, “They was rough. Men was hustling and selling bootleg and Lemon was singing for them all night... he’d start singing about eight and go on until four in the morning... mostly it would be just him sitting there and playing and singing all night.”

Elm Street Dallas Texas 1944It is known that Lemon was performing in Dallas around 1912, finding employment not only as a musician, but as a professional wrestler. He was probably among the first of many street musicians who played on and inhabited the streets of Deep Ellum and Central Track areas of Dallas. They say that Lemon also traveled widely by walking the railroad tracks to secure his arrival to other urban areas. It has been reported that he played as far away as Johnson City, Tennessee. Sometime after 1920 Lemon met and married Roberta Ranson, who was ten years his senior.

78 Blind Lemon Jefferson

Blind Lemon was discovered by Paramount Records in 1925 and was taken to Chicago where he started his extremely successful recording career. By 1929 he had recorded 110 sides, not only blues, but spirituals such as “I Want To Be Like Jesus In My Heart” under the name of Deacon L. J. Bates. Among his more famous tunes are “Broke and Hungry”, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”, and “Black Snake Moan”.

Legend has it that Lemon died in a snowstorm in Chicago on December 22, 1929. He was buried in Wortham Negro Cemetery in Wortham, Texas. His grave was not kept clean for many years but that has changed. The graveyard was renamed Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery in 2007, and a fund was established to honor his musical request.