"Blind Willie" Johnson

Blind Willie Johnson was an American gospel blues singer, guitarist and evangelist. His landmark recordings completed between 1927 and 1930 (thirty songs in total) display a combination of powerful "chest voice" singing, slide guitar skills, and originality that has influenced generations of musicians.

Even though Johnson's records sold well, as a Beaumont, TX., street performer and preacher he had little wealth in his lifetime.  A revival of interest in Johnson's music began in the 1960s, following his inclusion on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, and by the efforts of the blues guitarist Reverend Gary Davis.  As a result, Johnson is now credited as one of the most influential practitioners of the blues and slide guitar playing. Other recordings by Johnson include "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed,” "It's Nobody's Fault but Mine,” and "John the Revelator.” 

Johnson was not born blind. It is uncertain how he lost his sight, but it is generally agreed by most biographers of Johnson, that he was blinded by his stepmother when he was seven years old-a claim first made by his purported widow Angeline Johnson.  She stated that during an argument with Willie’s father, his stepmother splashed Willie with a caustic solution of lye water, permanently blinding him.

He died of complications from malarial fever in 1945 while living in the ruins of his burned-down house. 

 

According to his death certificate, he was buried in Blanchette Cemetery in Beaumont, but the exact location of his gravesite there is a mystery.

Johnson's hymn, "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” was selected by Carl Sagan to be included on the gold record of NASA’s Voyager 1 space probe as an example of the music of Earth. 

 

Along with Mozart, Johnson’s recorded composition and slide guitar performance now travels nearly a million miles a day. It has left our solar system, and is part of the most distant spacecraft ever launched from Earth. It is hoped that intelligent life will discover the gold record, and in turn marvel at the brilliance of Blind Willie Johnson.

Blind Willie Johnson - Dark Was the NIght
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The Museum of the Gulf Coast is administered by the Port Arthur Historical Society in partnership with the City of Port Arthur.  

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