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Booker T. Laury

A Memphis native son, Lawrence “Booker T” Laury was born on September 2, 1914. A lifelong friend of Blues giant Peter Chatman, better known as Memphis Slim, the two grew up only blocks from one another. Laury would even at times claim the two were actually cousins. He was first introduced to keyboards at the age of six, stating that he began by assisting his mother playing the family's pump- organ. As Laury and Chatman grew older, the two developed their barrelhouse style with strong influences coming from the music of pianists, Sunnyland Slim, Speckled Red and Roosevelt Sykes, who passed through Memphis regularly. And, along with the younger Mose Vinson, these teenaged pianists began to hold their ground playing the clubs and card rooms of the city in the early 1930s with their hard-pounding boogies.

Having an enormous hand-width, capable of stretching across ten keys with his right alone, Laury was a natural for piano playing. It is an even more amazing feat that he retained this dexterity behind the keyboards after an accident with a machine saw resulted in the loss of one finger on his left hand in the early 1950s.

In 1935, while making one of his routine stops in the Bluff City, Roosevelt Sykes encountered Laury and Chatman. Impressed by their talent, he suggested that they travel to Chicago, where they may draw the attention of talent scouts and possibly attain a recording contract. Memphis Slim took this advice and moved North where he became one of the most-widely acclaimed pianists of his time. But, Laury remained behind and continued to play the gambling houses that he was familiar with instead. In later years as Beale Street began to deteriorate, Laury found work traveling throughout Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri playing in smaller venues.

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