Amy Brawner lets us know about a blues legend who has passed on, Jessie Mae Hemphill. She died Saturday, and Amy regrets never getting to see her:
Jessie Mae Hemphill, living hill and country blues musician of the Senatobia/Como., Miss. area passed away last Saturday.
Some of you may not know who she is, but in the close knit community of the Ark./Miss., she will be greatly missed in the blues community.
She was the granddaughter of fife-and-drum leader Sid Hemphill and the niece of Rosa Lee Hill, who sat in many times with Mississippi Fred McDowell. She’s also been documented numerous times, to her work and mark placed in documentaries, book, and field recordings, notably by Alan Lomax and Robert Palmer (“Deep Blues.”)
Recordings (there are many) include her latest “Get Right Blues”, “Feelin’ Good” and “She-Wolf ( a tribute to Chester Burnett aka “Howlin’ Wolf)”
On a personal note, I deeply regret never having met her, but have learned a lot about her through playing her music on the radio, reading, watching film and listening to stories by her contemporaries: she delivered git-all lilting vocal style- whose softness in inflection sometimes broke into devilish-like tinkling laughter.
“Take Me Home With You Baby” from her “She-Wolf” album remains my favorite. It’s simple, jaunting, happy, and she plucks the melody form the traditonal diddley bow. She was also featured with Memphis-blues musician Richard Johnston in a Foothill Stomp collection in “Chicken and Gravy” a hill-country melody version of “Mama’s Gonna Buy You a Mockingbird.”
More than anything, I liked her style: delivering that trance-like music, with her hair done up, a leopard print, or something equally as fashionable ensemble, and a cowgirl hat that really showed off her high cheek bones, a gift from her Cherokee ancestors. After her stroke in the mid-nineties, a revolver also become an accessory.
There’s a blues foundation named after her as well.
No word yet on funeral processions. I’ll be playing in her honor some songs on Wednesday on KABF 88.3 3-5 p.m.
“Take Me Home With You Baby” will be one of them, I promise.