Roosevelt Sykes was one of the greatest blues pianists of all time. In a recording career that extended over five decades, Sykes displays a mastery of performing styles from barrelhouse to stride piano, from St. Louis boogie woogie to New Orleans blues.
Considered by musicians and music historians as the father of the modern blues piano style, Roosevelt Sykes possessed a beautiful voice and a unique keyboard style that was often imitated by other blues pianists, and he was the mentor for Memphis Slim. During the 1930s, he performed with sidemen ranging from jazz drummer Big Sid Catlett to slide guitarist James Kokmo Arnold. He also performed solo piano pieces. A genial man with a vibrant personality, Sykes was the consummate entertainer. He delighted audiences both in Europe and the United States with blues and ragtime-influenced songs filled with risque humor.
Roosevelt Sykes was born on January 31, 1906, in Elmar, Arkansas, a community he later described as “just a little sawmill town. In 1909, Sykes moved with his family to St. Louis, Missouri. He often returned to his grandfather's farm near West Helena and played the organ in a local church. By 1918 he had taught himself the art of blues piano and, three years later, left home to work as an itinerant pianist in gambling establishments and barrelhouses throughout Louisiana and Mississippi. He led the life of a rambler, playing music in order to survive.