Mance Lipscomb represented one of the last remnants of the nineteenth-century songster tradition, which predated the development of the blues. Though songsters might incorporate blues into their repertoires, as did Lipscomb, they performed a wide variety of material in diverse styles, much of it common to both black and white traditions in the South, including ballads, rags, dance pieces and popular, sacred, and secular songs. Lipscomb himself insisted that he was a songster, not a guitarist or blues singer, since he played all kinds of music. His eclectic repertoire has been reported to have contained 350 pieces spanning two centuries.
Lipscomb was born into a musical family on April 9, 1895, in the Brazos bottoms near Navasota, Texas, where he lived most of his life as a tenant farmer. He began playing at an early age. His father was a fiddler, his uncle played the banjo, and his brothers were guitarists. His mother bought him a guitar when he was eleven, and he was soon accompanying his father, and later entertaining alone, at suppers and Saturday night dances. Although he had some contact with such early recording artists as fellow Texans Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie Johnson and early country star James Charles (Jimmie) Rodgers, he did not make recordings until his discovery by whites during the folk-song revival of the 1960s.