Geeshie Wiley

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Lillie Mae "Geeshie" Wiley
Genres Blues, country blues
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter
Instruments Guitar
Labels Paramount
Associated acts Elvie Thomas

Geeshie Wiley (sometimes rendered as Geechie Wiley) was an American blues singer and guitar player. She recorded six songs, issued on three records, in 1930 and 1931. Little else is known about her. There are no known photographs or images of her.[1]

Biography[edit]

Little is known about Wiley, and the few details of her life provided by various sources are inconsistent. "Geeshie" was probably a nickname; her given name is unknown. The nickname "Geechie" or "Geechee" was common among people from around coastal South Carolina and Georgia (it is also an alternate name for the Gullah ethnic group of that region), but more generally it was an affectionate nickname for a young woman of rural origins in the American South.

The musician Ishmon Bracey, a contemporary of Wiley's (whose testimony may not be reliable), stated that she came from Natchez, Mississippi, and was romantically linked with the Delta blues musician Papa Charlie McCoy.[2]

It has been suggested that in the 1920s she worked in a medicine show in Jackson, Mississippi, and that she may have married Casey Bill Weldon[3] after his divorce from Memphis Minnie.[1]

The singer and bass player Herbert Wiley, of Oxford, Mississippi, stated that she was a cousin on his father's side and that her family had farmed in South Carolina; his father had told him that she died in 1938 or 1939. Herbert Wiley believed that she may have been buried in the family burial plot in Oxford.[2]

The musicologist and genealogist Eric S. LeBlanc suggested that her name was Wadie May Wiley and that she was born near Oxford in 1906.[4]

The blues researcher Robert "Mack" McCormick claimed to have visited her former home and spoken to members of her immediate family when he was conducting fieldwork in Oklahoma in the 1950s.[2] McCormick also interviewed Wiley's recording partner, Elvie Thomas, in Texas in 1961. Thomas began performing with Wiley in the early 1920s and remembered her as Lillie Mae Wiley; she claimed to have given Wiley her nickname. Several years before the interview, Thomas had heard that Wiley was living in West Texas. Later research reported by John Jeremiah Sullivan suggested that Wiley was born in Louisiana around 1908 and that she may have been the Lillie Mae Scott who stabbed her husband, Thornton Wiley, to death in Houston, Texas, in 1931.[5]

Wiley was nonetheless performing again with Thomas about 1933, on their last tour together.

“If Geeshie Wiley did not exist, she could not be invented: her scope and creativity dwarfs most blues artists. She seems to represent the moment when black secular music was coalescing into blues.”
Don Kent, liner notes to Mississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927–35 (Yazoo CD 2007, 1994)

In March 1930, Wiley and Thomas traveled from Houston to Grafton, Wisconsin, to make recordings for Paramount Records. Wiley recorded "Last Kind Words Blues" and "Skinny Leg Blues", singing and accompanying herself on guitar, with Thomas providing additional guitar accompaniment.[6] Thomas also recorded two songs, "Motherless Child Blues" and "Over to My House," with Wiley playing guitar and singing harmony.[3] In March 1931 Wiley and Thomas returned to Grafton and recorded "Pick Poor Robin Clean" and "Eagles on a Half."[3][7]

Legacy[edit]

In the documentary film Crumb (1994), by Terry Zwigoff, the artist Robert Crumb plays Wiley's recording of "Last Kind Words Blues" and sits down to listen as a sequence of his cartoons is shown.

"Last Kind Words", "Motherless Child Blues", "Skinny Legs Blues", and "Pick Poor Robin Clean" are included on the compilation album Mississippi Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927–1935 (Yazoo Records, 2007).[8]

"Last Kind Words Blues" has been covered by several other artists:

Discography[edit]

  • Paramount Records 12951, March 1930, Geeshie Wiley: "Last Kind Words" / "Skinny Leg Blues"
  • Paramount Records 12977, March 1930, Elvie Thomas & Geeshie Wiley: "Motherless Child Blues" / "Over to My House"
  • Paramount Records 13074, March 1931, Geeshie Wiley & Elvie Thomas: "Pick Poor Robin Clean" / "Eagles on a Half"

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Geeshie Wiley | Big Road Blues". Sundayblues.org. Retrieved 2015-10-07. 
  2. ^ a b c Gioia, T. (2009). Delta Blues. W. W. Norton. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-393-33750-1.
  3. ^ a b c Leggett, Steve. "Geeshie Wiley". AllMusic. Retrieved November 3, 2012. 
  4. ^ LeBlanc, E., and Eagle, B. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. ABC-CLIO. p. 112. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  5. ^ Sullivan, John Jeremiah (April 13, 2014). "The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie". The New York Times. Retrieved April 20, 2014. 
  6. ^ Sullivan, John Jeremiah (2009). Best Music Writing 2009: Unknown Bards. Seal Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-306-81782-3. 
  7. ^ "Geeshie Wiley & Elvie Thomas – Pick Poor Robin Clean: Geeshie Wiley & Elvie Thomas : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 2015-10-07. 
  8. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 210. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 

External links[edit]