better known as Charley Patton
(May 1, 1891 - April 28, 1934) is best known
as an American Delta blues musician. He is considered
by many to be the "Father of Delta Blues"
and therefore one of the oldest known figures
of American popular music. He is credited with
creating an enduring body of American music
and personally inspiring just about every Delta
blues man (Robert Palmer, 1995). Palmer considers
him among the most important musicians that
America produced in the twentieth century. Many
sources, including some musical releases and
even his gravestone, misspell his name “Charley”
even though the musician himself spelled his
Charlie Patton was one of the first mainstream
stars of the Delta blues genre. Patton, who
was born in Hinds County, Mississippi near Edwards,
lived most of his life in Sunflower County,
in the Mississippi Delta. He was born in 1891,
but there is still some debate about this. In
1900, however, his family moved 100 miles north
to the legendary 10,000 Acre Dockery Plantation
sawmill and cotton farm near Ruleville, Mississippi.
It was here that both John Lee Hooker and Howlin'
Wolf fell under the Patton spell. It was also
here that Robert Johnson played his first guitar.
At Dockery, Charlie fell under the spell of
Henry Sloan who had an unusual new style of
playing music which we would recognize today
as very early blues. Charlie followed Henry
Sloan around and by the time he was about 19
in 1910 he was an accomplished performer and
composer, having already composed his theme
song "Pony Blues".
He was extremely popular across the U.S. South,
and (in contrast to the itinerant wandering
of most blues musicians of his time) was invited
to perform at plantations and taverns. Long
before Jimi Hendrix he was the entertainer's
entertainer with dazzling showmanship, often
playing guitar on his knees and behind his head,
as well as behind his back. Although Patton
was a small man at about 5 foot 5 and 135 pounds,
the sound of his whiskey- and cigarette-scarred
voice was rumored to have carried for over 500
yards without amplification. This gritty voice
was a major influence in the singing style of
one of his students, Howlin' Wolf.
Patton settled in Holly Ridge, Mississippi with
his common-law wife and recording partner Bertha
Lee in 1933. He died on the Heathman-Dedham
plantation near Indianola from heart disease
on April 28, 1934 and is buried in Holly Ridge
(both towns are located in Sunflower County).
There apparently exists only one photograph
of Charlie Patton, although its authenticity
is disputed. Rights to it are owned by a collector
named John Tefteller.
It is of minor debate which race Charlie Patton
was. Though he was most likely African-American
like most of his contemporaries in the blues
field, because of his light complexion there
have been rumors that he was Mexican, full-blood
Cherokee (Howlin' Wolf himself endorsed this
theory) and many others.