Big Bill Broonzy

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Big Bill Broonzy , born Lee Conl (e) y Bradley (born June 26, 1903 in Jefferson County (Arkansas) , † August 15, 1958 in Chicago , Illinois ), was an American blues musician and composer, before especially in the field of country blues .


Bill Broonzy was one of 17 children born to his parents, Frank and Mittie Bradley (née Belcher). He is said to have spent most of his childhood in Arkansas , where he learned the game of fiddle through his uncle Jerry Belcher and also performed on a modest basis. Then he hired himself as a field worker. In 1920 Big Bill Broonzy went to Chicago, where his father Charlie Jackson taught him to play the guitar. In 1927 he made his first recordings for Paramount. Among the songs in which he accompanied himself was the song "Big Billy Blues", from which his stage name was derived in the future. From 1927 to 1942 he recorded over 200 songs. Broonzy could not make a living from his music at first and pursued other professions until the 1950s.

After 1930 he recorded with Georgia Tom (actually: Thomas Andrew Dorsey) on piano and Frank Basswell under the group name "Famous Hokum Boys" on various records. Around 1936 he began to perform with a small band, with drums ( Fred Williams ) and bass, occasionally supplemented by harmonica, piano or wind instruments. The recordings from this time trade under the name Big Bill and his Chicago Five . In the specialist literature (e.g. at Dicaire, see bibliography) there is evidence that Broonzy may have introduced the power trio into popular music - a concept that later musicians and bands such as Jimi Hendrix , ZZ Top and Cream were successful in rock music did.

In the 1930s Broonzy et al. a. traveling with Memphis Minnie . After Robert Johnson's death , Broonzy was hired in his place for the New York show From Spiritual To Swing and was enthusiastically received by the white audience. In the 1950s he toured Europe successfully on several occasions, especially arousing interest in the blues among London musicians. He made recordings a. a. with Pete Seeger , Sonny Terry , Brownie McGhee and Leadbelly and ultimately became a professional musician in 1953.

In 1957, Big Bill Broonzy developed throat cancer and died from it a year later. He was buried in the Lincoln Cemetery of the Chicago community of Blue Island (Illinois) .


Big Bill Broonzy, himself influenced by Blind Lemon Jefferson , brought mainly country songs, work songs, spirituals and his ragtime style to Chicago from 1920, had a not insignificant influence on blues greats like Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim , but also on folk- Guitarists. He was an excellent guitarist and has composed over 350 pieces. In 1980 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Blues Foundation , also in 2010 his song Key to the Highway and his autobiography (together with Yannick Bruynoghe ) Big Bill Blues 1990. The French Prix ​​Big Bill Broonzy was named after him, which ran from 1967 to 2004 was awarded.

Discography (selection)

  • 1927: Big Bill's Blues , Paramount
  • 1928: Down in the Basement Blues , Paramount
  • 1930: Station Blues , Paramount
  • 1931: Big Bill Blues , Champion
  • 1935: Take Your Hands Off Her , Bluebird
  • 1952: "Big Bill Broonzy A Paris", Vogue LD 605-30 Vol. 33
  • 1957: His Story , Interviews and performances with Studs Terkel , Folkways Records , [1]
  • 1959: Blues with Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee , Folkways Records
  • 1962: Big Bill Broonzy Sings Folk Songs , Folkways Records
  • 1989: Big Bill Broonzy Sings Folk Songs , Smithsonian Folkways
  • 2000: Trouble In Mind , Smithsonian Folkways


  • Big Bill Blues. William Broonzy's Story As Told To Yannick Bruynoghe (autobiography, 1955)
  • David Dicaire: Blues Singers (1999)
  • Bob Riesman: I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy. University of Chicago Press 2011
  • Hannes Fricke: The guitar myth: history, performers, great moments. Reclam, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-020279-1 , pp. 134-136 and passim.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Ian McKenzie: Big Bill Broonzy. A biography .
  2. a b Broonzy himself gave his year of birth as 1893, as it is written on his tombstone. He also liked to refer to himself as the twin brother of his sister Lanny, and also claimed that the parents were slaves and married immediately after the liberation of the slaves; he himself served as a soldier in the US Army in France from 1918-19. It wasn't until Bob Riesman's research, published in 2011, that all of this was exposed as a legend. Robert Riesman: I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy . University of Chicago Press , 2011, ISBN 978-0-226-71745-6 , p. 7: “On June 26, 1903, Frank and Mittie welcomed Lee Bradley, the fourth and last boy. The entry in the family birth record appears as 'Lee Conly Bradley,' but in all other documents in which he is listed as a Bradley, it is just as Lee Bradley. 'My name,' he told a Danish jazz club audience in 1956, 'is William Lee Conley Broonzy,' and he was half right. His full given name was most likely Lee Conley Bradley. Lanny Bradley, the sister Bill was closest to, was born on August 4, 1906. "
  3. ^ Hannes Fricke: Myth guitar: history, interpreters, great hours. Reclam, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-020279-1 , p. 38.
  4. Big Bill Broonzy in the Find a Grave database . Retrieved September 8, 2017.