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Sonny Boy Nelson

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Born Eugene Powell in Utica, Mississippi on December 23, 1908, the child of an interracial affair, Sonny Boy Nelson showed musical abilities early as a child, and was playing the guitar by the time he was seven, and eventually learned to play banjo, harmonica, mandolin, violin, and all manner of horns. Blind in one eye from a childhood accident, Powell was using his stage name by 1936 when he cut six sides in New Orleans for Bluebird Records, with a version of "Pony Blues" among them. That would be the extent of Powell's recording for over 30 years until the blues revival hit and he was rediscovered, turning in a well-received set at the Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. in 1972, a set that was also recorded (parts of it appeared on an Adelphi Records festival highlights compilation) and revealed him to still be in command of his musical powers. Albatross Records, an Italian label, issued the only album that appeared under Nelson's name in his lifetime, Police in Mississippi Blues, in 1975. He continued to play into the mid-'90s, with younger blues artists like Lonnie Pitchford, Keb' Mo', and Alvin Youngblood Hart lauding his influence, but as his health deteriorated, he was placed in a nursing home in Greenville, Mississippi, where he died November 4, 1998. ~ Steve Leggett

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