Blind Willie Johnson

Blind Willie Johnson was arguably the greatest and most popular ‘sanctified’ singer to record in the pre-World War II era. His forceful singing and stunning guitar work ensured that he continued to sell records even into the Depression. His blindness has been attributed to many causes, the most likely being that his stepmother threw lye-water in his face during a jealous fit when he was about seven. That he should turn to music after this is a recurring motif in the stories of many blind black singers, but even earlier, Johnson had admitted to a desire to preach. Now he combined the two talents to produce outstandingly powerful religious music as he played for tips on the streets. Despite this commitment to the church there seems to have been a secular side to his music, and it remains probable that he recorded two un-issued blues under the pseudonym of Blind Texas Marlin at his second session for Columbia Records. Johnson began recording for the label in December 1927, by which time he had moved to Dallas; his first release became an instant success, selling in excess of 15, 000 copies. Between then and April 1930 he recorded a total of 30 issued tracks (all for the same company), maintaining a level of quality that is amazing even by today’s standards.

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