Sonny Boy Williamson II, nicknamed King of the Harmonica by his peers, was one of the most inspiring harp players in blues history. With his passionate yet understated style, his metronome-like timing, and his endlessly inventive technique, he has influenced generations of players, including such virtuosos as Howling Wolf, James Cotton and Junior Wells. Aside from being a harp player who helped set the course of modern blues, he was also a legendary blues character whose colorful personality, unpredictable actions, and frequent stretching of the truth only served to enliven his blues with a rare, but warmly embraced, eccentricity.
According to his gravestone, Rice Miller was born March 11, 1897, in the country between Glendora and Tutwiler, Mississippi. He was raised by his mother Millie Ford and stepfather Jim Miller, and acquired the nickname Rice as a young child. Miller, taught himself to play harmonica at the age of five, and became quite adept on it, playing spiritual music at parties for tips as a child. As he grew older, he began playing spirituals at schools and street corners as Little Boy Blue. During the 1920s he left his parents' home and began to hobo, playing blues to support himself.
Miller hoboed through Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Missouri during the 1920s, playing levee and lumber camps, juke joints, and parties. He claimed to have made unissued test recordings in the late 1920s, but these have never been found. During the 1930s Miller teamed up with guitarists Elmore James and Robert Johnson for short periods. He also developed a partnership with a young Johnson protégé, guitarist Robert Jr. Lockwood. During the late 1930s, Jackson, Tennessee, harmonica wizard John Lee Sonny Boy Williamson recorded several hits including Good Morning Little School Girl and Bluebird Blues for the Bluebird label in Chicago. During the early 1940s, Rice Miller began calling himself Sonny Boy Williamson and responded to anyone who questioned it that he was the original Sonny Boy.