The only known photograph of Blind Blake, circa 1927
|Birth name||Arthur Blake|
Jacksonville, Florida or Newport News, Virginia, United States (uncertain)
|Died||December 1, 1934 (aged 38)
|Genres||Piedmont blues, ragtime, country blues|
|Associated acts||Irene Scruggs|
Arthur "Blind" Blake (1896 – December 1, 1934) was an American blues and ragtime singer and guitarist. He is known for his series of recordings for Paramount Records between 1926 and 1932 and the mystery surrounding his life.
Little is known of Blind Blake's life. Paramount Records promotional materials indicate he was born blind and give his birthplace as Jacksonville, Florida, and he appears to have lived there during various periods. He seems to have had relatives across the state line in Patterson, Georgia. Some authors have written that in one recording he slipped into a Geechee or Gullah dialect, suggesting a connection in the Sea Islands. Blind Willie McTell indicated that his real name was Arthur Phelps, but later research has shown this is unlikely to be correct. In 2011 a group of researchers led by Alex van der Tuuk published various documents regarding Blake's life and death in Blues & Rhythm. One of these documents is his 1934 death certificate, which indicates he was born in 1896 in Newport News, Virginia, to Winter and Alice Blake, though his mother's name is followed by a question mark. Nothing else is known of Blake until the 1920s, when he emerged as a recording musician.
Blind Blake recorded about 80 tracks for Paramount Records from 1926 to 1932. He was one of the most accomplished guitarists of his genre with a diverse range of material. He is best known for his distinct guitar sound that was comparable in sound and style to a ragtime piano. He appears to have lived in Jacksonville and to have gone to Chicago for his recording sessions, at one point having an apartment at 31st Street and Cottage Grove. According to van der Tuuk et al., he apparently returned to Florida during winters. By the 1930s he was reported to be playing in front of a Jacksonville hotel.
Blake married Beatrice Blake, née McGee, around 1931, and the following year he made his final recording in the Paramount headquarters in Grafton, Wisconsin, just before the label went out of business. For decades nothing was known of him after this point, and he was rumored to have met a violent death; Reverend Gary Davis heard he was hit by a streetcar in 1934. The research of van der Tuuk et al. suggests that Blake stayed in Wisconsin, living in Milwaukee's Brewer's Hill neighborhood, where Paramount boarded many of its artists. He seems not to have found work as a musician. In April 1933 he was hospitalized with pneumonia, and never fully recovered. On December 1, 1934, after three weeks of decline, his wife Beatrice summoned an ambulance. Blake suffered a pulmonary hemorrhage and died on the way to the hospital. The cause of death was listed as pulmonary tuberculosis; he was buried at the Glen Oaks cemetery in Glendale, Wisconsin.
Blake's first recordings were made in 1926 and his records sold very well. His first solo record was "Early Morning Blues" with "West Coast Blues" on the B-side. Both are considered excellent examples of his ragtime-based guitar style and are prototypes for the burgeoning Piedmont blues. Blake made his last recordings in 1932, the end of his career aided by Paramount's bankruptcy. Stefan Grossman and Gayle Dean Wardlow think its possible that only one side of Blake's last record is actually by him. "Champagne Charlie Is My Name" does not actually sound like Blake's playing or singing. His complex and intricate finger picking has inspired Reverend Gary Davis, Jorma Kaukonen, Ry Cooder, Arlen Roth, John Fahey, Ralph McTell, Leon Redbone and many others. French singer-songwriter Francis Cabrel refers to Blind Blake in the song "Cent Ans de Plus" on the 1999 album Hors-Saison.
Several original recordings of Blind Blake singing and playing are available at the Archive.
- "Early Morning Blues"
- "Seaboard Stomp"
- "Diddie Wa Diddie" 1929
- "That Will Never Happen No More"
- Balfour, Alan. CD liner notes. Blind Blake, Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order, Volume 4, August 1929 to June 1932. DOCD–5027. Document Records, 1991.
- Van der Tuuk, Alex; Eagle, Bob; Ford, Rob; LeBlanc, Eric; Mack, Angela (October 2011). "In Search of Blind Blake - Arthur Blake's death certificate unearthed". Blues & Rhythm 263: 8–10.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues – From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. pp. 93–94. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Jas Obrecht. "The King Of Ragtime Guitar: Blind Blake & His Piano-Sounding Guitar". Gracyk.com. Retrieved 2014-09-02.
- Jas Obrecht 1993
- "The Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 2014-09-02.