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Memphis Minnie McCoy (born Lizzie Douglas, June 3, 1897 in Algiers, Louisiana; died August 6, 1973 in Memphis, Tennessee) was an American Blues guitarist, vocalist, and composer.
Born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana, she was one of the most influential and pioneering female blues musicians and guitarists of all time. Minnie recorded for forty years, virtually unheard of for any woman in show business at the time, and possibly unique among female blues artists. A flamboyant character who wore bracelets made of silver dollars, she was the biggest female blues singer from the early Depression years through World War II. One of the first blues artists to take up the electric guitar, in 1942, she combined her Louisiana-country roots with Memphis-blues to produce her unique country-blues sound; along with Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, she took country blues into electric urban blues, paving the highway for giants like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Jimmy Rogers to travel from the small towns of the south to the big cities of the north. She was married three times, and each husband was an accomplished blues guitarist: Joe McCoy (a.k.a. "Kansas Joe") later of the Harlem Hamfats, Casey Bill Weldon of the Memphis Jug Band, and Ernest "Little Son Joe" Lawlers.
After learning to play guitar and banjo as a child, at the age of thirteen she ran away from home to Memphis, Tennessee, playing guitar in nightclubs and on the street as Lizzie "Kid" Douglas. The next year, she joined the Ringling Brothers circus. Her second marriage and recording debut came in 1929, both with Kansas Joe McCoy, when a Columbia Records talent scout heard them playing in a Beale Street barbershop in their distinctive "Memphis style", and their song "Bumble Bee" became a hit. In the 1930s she moved to Chicago, Illinois with Joe. She and McCoy broke up in 1935 and by 1939 she was with Little Son Joe Lawlers, with whom she recorded nearly 200 records. In the 1940s she formed a touring Vaudeville company. From the 1950s on, however, public interest in her music declined and in 1957, she and Lawlers returned to Memphis, Lawlers died in 1961.
After her health began to fail in the mid-'50s, Minnie returned to
Memphis and retired from performing and recording. She spent her
twilight years in a nursing home, where she died of a stroke in 1973.
She is buried at the New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Walls, DeSoto
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