Brownie McGhee

Brownie McGhee
Brownie McGhee

Brownie McGhee performing at Nambassa in 1981.
Background information
Birth name Walter Brown McGhee
Born November 30, 1915(1915-11-30)
Knoxville, Tennessee, United States
Died February 16, 1996(1996-02-16) (aged 80)
Oakland, California, United States
Genres Folk-blues, country blues, Piedmont blues, East Coast blues, blues revival
Occupations Musician
Instruments Guitar, piano, kazoo, vocals
Associated acts Stick McGhee, Sonny Terry

Walter Brown ("Brownie") McGhee (November 30, 1915 - February 16, 1996)[1] was a Piedmont blues singer and guitarist, best known for his collaborations with the harmonica player Sonny Terry.[2]


Life and career

Brownie McGhee was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee.[3] As a child he had polio, which incapacitated his leg. His brother Granville "Sticks" or "Stick" McGhee was nicknamed for pushing young Brownie around in a cart. His father, George McGhee, was a factory worker known around University Avenue for playing guitar and singing. Brownie's uncle made him a guitar from a tin marshmallow box and a piece of board.[4] McGhee spent much of his youth immersed in music, singing with local harmony group the Golden Voices Gospel Quartet and teaching himself to play guitar. A March of Dimes-funded leg operation enabled McGhee to walk.

At age 22, Brownie McGhee became a traveling musician, working in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and befriending Blind Boy Fuller, whose guitar playing influenced him greatly. After Fuller's death in 1941, J. B. Long of Columbia Records had McGhee adopt his mentor's name, branding him "Blind Boy Fuller No. 2." By that time, McGhee was recording for Columbia's subsidiary Okeh Records in Chicago, but his real success came after he moved to New York in 1942, when he teamed up with Sonny Terry, whom he had known since 1939 when Sonny was Blind Boy Fuller's harmonica player. The pairing was an overnight success; as well as recording, they toured together until around 1980. As a duo, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee did most of their work from 1958 until 1980, spending 11 months of each year touring, and recording dozens of albums.

Despite their later fame as "pure" folk artists playing for white audiences, in the 1940s Terry and McGhee also attempted to be successful black recording performers, fronting a jump blues combo with honking saxophone and rolling piano, variously calling themselves "Brownie McGhee and his Jook House Rockers" or "Sonny Terry and his Buckshot Five," often with Champion Jack Dupree and Big Chief Ellis. They also appeared in the original Broadway productions of Finian's Rainbow and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

During the blues revival of the 1960s, Terry and McGhee were very popular on the concert and music festival circuits, occasionally adding new material but usually remaining faithful to their roots and their audience. With Sonny Terry, he appeared in the 1979 Steve Martin comedy The Jerk. In 1987, McGhee gave a small but memorable performance as ill-fated blues singer Toots Sweet in the supernatural thriller movie, Angel Heart. He also appeared in a 1988 episode of "Family Ties" titled "The Blues Brother" in which he played fictional blues musician Eddie Dupre.

Happy Traum, a former guitar student of Brownie's, edited a blues guitar instruction guide and songbook for him. Using a tape recorder, Traum had McGhee instruct and, between lessons, talk about his life and the blues. Guitar Styles of Brownie McGhee was published in New York in 1971. The autobiographical section features Brownie talking about growing up, his musical beginnings, and a history of the early blues period (1930s onward).

One of McGhee's final concert appearances was at the 1995 Chicago Blues Festival.[3]

McGhee died from stomach cancer in February 1996 in Oakland, California at age 80; he missed his planned return trip to Australia.[5]


  • Traditional Blues - Vol. 1 (Folkways Records, 1951)
  • Get on Board: Negro Folksongs by the Folkmasters (Folkways, 1952)
  • Brownie McGhee Blues (Folkways, 1955)
  • Washboard Band - Country Dance Music (Folkways, 1956)
  • Folk Songs of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (Roulette, 1958)
  • Blues with Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (Folkways, 1959)
  • Brownie McGhee Sings the Blues (Folkways, 1959)
  • Traditional Blues - Vol. 2 (Folkways, 1960)
  • Preachin' the Blues (Folkways, 1968)
  • Sonny & Brownie (A&M Records, 1973)
  • Brownie's Blues (Prestige Records, 1984)
  • Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry Sing (Smithsonian Folkways, 1990)
  • The Folkways Years, 1945-1959 (Smithsonian Folkways, 1991)

See also


  1. ^ Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1996 - 1997". Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  2. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. 
  3. ^ a b Allmusic biography
  4. ^ Neely, Jack. Knoxville's Secret History. Scruffy City Publishing, 1995.
  5. ^ "Dead Rock Stars website". Retrieved 2011-11-08. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Brownie McGhee — (* 30. November 1915 in Knoxville, Tennessee; † 16. Februar 1996 in Oa …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Brownie McGhee — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Brownie McGhee Información personal Nombre real Walter McGhee Nacimiento 30 de noviembre de 1915 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Brownie McGhee — en 1981 en Nouvelle Zélande. Brownie McGhee (30 novembre 1915 à Knoxville, Tennessee 16 février 1996 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Brownie McGhee — Wa l t e r Brown McGhee …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Brownie Mc Ghee — Brownie McGhee Brownie McGhee (30 novembre 1915 à Knoxville, Tennessee 16 février 1996 à Oakland, Californie) fut un célébre chanteur et guitariste de blues et de chants traditionnels. Il enregistra de nombreux titres avec Sonny Terry, et… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • McGhee — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Andy McGhee (* 1927), US amerikanischer Jazz Tenorsaxophonist, Autor und Hochschullehrer Bart McGhee (1899–1979), US amerikanischer Fußballnationalspieler Brownie McGhee (1915–1996), US amerikanischer… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • McGhee — can refer to: Gary McGhee, an American Basketball Player playing for the Pittsburgh Panthers men s basketball team George C. McGhee, US diplomat David McGhee, professional footballer Mark McGhee, footballer and manager Brownie McGhee, US blues… …   Wikipedia

  • Brownie (homonymie) — Brownie Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Le terme brownie peut désigner : Un brownie aux noix est un gâteau. Brownie est un personnage du folklore écossais. brownie est une des… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Brownie — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Le terme brownie peut désigner : Un brownie aux noix est un gâteau. Brownie est un personnage du folklore écossais. Brownie est une des célèbres… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • McGhee —   [mə giː],    1) Brownie, eigentlich Walter Brown McGhee, amerikanischer Jazzmusiker (Gitarre, Gesang), * Knoxville (Tennessee) 30. 11. 1915, ✝ Oakland (Calif.) 16. 2. 1996; arbeitete von 1939 bis Ende der 70er Jahre im Duo mit Sonny Terry (*… …   Universal-Lexikon

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