February 18, 2014 -- If you live in America and you love Roots Music, you celebrate Black History Month year-round. This month we'd like to take the time to mention four great musicians who also happened to be blind: Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Many rural blues artists found their way into musical careers because of disabilities that prevented them from getting regular work. These four artists' talents would have led them to music in any case, but it can be supposed that their handicaps only served to make their artistry greater, their music more powerful.
Like all the great country blues innovators, each had his own unique approach to guitar playing, but the recordings they made led to the rise of regional styles and more widespread musical cross-pollination. Blake's east coast ragtime rhythms influenced another blind musician, Reverend Gary Davis, who in turn influenced Fuller, and the music of these three artists defined the Piedmont Blues of Virginia and the Carolinas. Jefferson was born in 1893 in Wortham, Texas. He often carried two different melodies simultaneously on the guitar, while singing a third melody, sounding like a one-man orchestra and confounding would-be imitators. Johnson was also from Texas, and was the preeminent slide guitarist of his day. He was much more of a guitar evangelist than a blues si, but his spine-chilling "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground" defies categorization.
Johnson, Blake, Fuller and Jefferson - a veritable Mount Rushmore of country blues and gospel - all worked at one time or another as streetcorner singers or preachers. More importantly, they all made records, and those records provide a deep and continuous source of inspiration for future generations of music lovers.