Charlie Burse

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Charlie Burse (August 25, 1901 – December 20, 1965)[1] was an American blues musician, best known for his work with the Memphis Jug Band. His nicknames include "Laughing Charlie," "Uke Kid Burse" and "The Ukulele Kid," but he played several musical instruments, such as the piano and saxophone.


Raised in Sheffield, Alabama,[2] Burse learned to play banjo and guitar during his early life, and made his first recordings on guitar. He also recorded with the tenor guitar and the mandolin. Additionally, Burse performed as a vocalist and could keep rhythm using the spoons.

Burse started recording as a member of Will Shade's Memphis Jug Band, which he joined in 1928 upon his arrival in Memphis, Tennessee. Burse recorded over 60 tracks as a member of the Memphis Jug Band. Shade and Burse exhibited notable differences in temperament. Shade was businesslike and orderly, acting as the band's business manager and generating a substantial income from its recordings, enough to purchase a house for himself. Burse, in contrast, was described as a "smart mouth"[3] and "the most irrepressible person I've ever met."[4] Surprisingly, however, there seems to have been remarkably little tension between the two men in their personal and professional association. Burse and Shade became lifelong friends, and the two would play together long after the Memphis Jug Band made its last commercial recordings in 1934.[5]

Burse participated in other projects, having been photographed with an outfit called the Schlitz Jug Band (named for their sponsor, a beer brewer) in the early 1930s, and recording a lengthy session as Charlie Burse and His Memphis Mudcats in 1939. The Memphis Mudcats updated the traditional jug band, adding drums instead of washboard (musical instrument), bass instead of jug, and saxophone instead of harmonica. He achieved an even more modern, piano-driven sound in 1950 with his recording of "Shorty the Barber," one of the first tracks recorded by Sam Phillips at Sun Studios.

Still playing with Will Shade, Burse was recorded by blues researchers Samuel Charters in 1956 and Alan Lomax in 1959, and appeared on a Memphis television special called "Blues Street" in 1958. In 1963 Burse and Shade collaborated on one of their last recordings, Beale Street Mess-Around. Burse and Shade continued to perform together until Burse's death; the two men would often play on street corners or at house parties. Their renown began to revive toward the end of their lives, especially triggered by their rediscovery by Charters.[5]

Burse died of heart disease on December 20, 1965, and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee.[6] He was survived by his wife Birde (née Crawford), children Charlie Jr., Lucille and Connie, and seven grandchildren.[7]


  1. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues – A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 142. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  2. ^ Robert Burse, United States Census, 1910; Sheffield, Colbert, Alabama; page 12A, line 41, enumeration district 172. Retrieved on August 29, 2017.
  3. ^ Burse, Perdido (August 17, 2017). "Interview with Perdido Burse" (Interview). Interviewed by Arlo Leach.
  4. ^ Brown, Roger (December 1, 2015). "Interview with Roger Brown" (Interview). Interviewed by Arlo Leach.
  5. ^ a b Biography by Eugene Chadbourne, Retrieved October 15, 2016
  6. ^ – accessed July 2010
  7. ^ Burse Wesson, Cynthia (June 8, 2017). "Interview with Cynthia Burse Wesson" (Interview). Interviewed by Arlo Leach.