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Jimmy Witherspoon

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Jimmy Witherspoon
Witherspoon in June 1976
Witherspoon in June 1976
Background information
Born(1920-08-08)August 8, 1920
Gurdon, Arkansas, U.S.
DiedSeptember 18, 1997(1997-09-18) (aged 77)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
GenresBlues, jump blues[1]
Years active1940s–1995

James Witherspoon (August 8, 1920 – September 18, 1997) was an American jump blues singer.[1]

Early life, family and education[edit]

Witherspoon was born in Gurdon, Arkansas.[2] His father was a railroad worker who sang in local choirs, and his mother was an avid piano player.[2] Witherspoon's grandson Ahkello Witherspoon is a cornerback for the Los Angeles Rams.[3]

Witherspoon eventually joined the Merchant Marines.[2]


Witherspoon first attracted attention singing in Calcutta, India, with Teddy Weatherford's band, which made regular radio broadcasts over the US Armed Forces Radio Service during World War II. Witherspoon made his first records with Jay McShann's band in 1945. He first recorded under his own name in 1947,[4] and two years later with the McShann band, he had his first hit, "Ain't Nobody's Business",[2] a song that came to be regarded as his signature tune. In 1950 he had hits with two more songs closely identified with him—"No Rollin' Blues" and "Big Fine Girl"—and also hit with "Failing by Degrees" and "New Orleans Woman", recorded with the Gene Gilbeaux Orchestra (which included Herman Washington and Don Hill) for Modern Records. They were recorded at a live performance on May 10, 1949, at a "Just Jazz" concert in Pasadena, California, sponsored by Gene Norman. Another classic Witherspoon composition is "Times Gettin' Tougher Than Tough".

Witherspoon performed in four of the famed Cavalcade of Jazz concerts held in Los Angeles at Wrigley Field which were produced by Leon Hefflin Sr. His first performance was at the fourth Cavalcade of Jazz on September 12, 1948, and Dizzy Gillespie was the featured artist along with Frankie Lane, Little Miss Cornshucks, The Sweetheart of Rhythms, Joe Liggins's Honeydrippers, Joe Turner, The Blenders, and The Sensations.[5] The program description stated that Witherspoon "is one of the most sought-after blues singers in the business. He has a strong, clear voice and diction that you would hear in the classics. Although he has been quite successful singing the blues, Witherspoon can sing ballads with a surprising sweetness." He played at the fifth Cavalcade of Jazz concert on July 10, 1949, along with Lionel Hampton, The Hamptones, Buddy Banks and his Orchestra, Big Jay McNeely, and Smiley Turner.[6] Witherspoon came back again for the seventh Cavalcade of Jazz concert on July 8, 1951, and performed alongside Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton and his Revue, Percy Mayfield, Joe Liggins's Honeydrippers, and Roy Brown.[7] His last appearance at the eighth Cavalcade of Jazz concert was on June 1, 1952. Also featured that day were Anna Mae Winburn and Her Sweethearts, Jerry Wallace, Toni Harper, Roy Brown and His Mighty Men, Louis Jordan and his Orchestra, and Josephine Baker.[8]

Witherspoon's style of blues—as a "blues shouter"—became unfashionable in the mid-1950s, but he returned to popularity with his 1959 album Jimmy Witherspoon at the Monterey Jazz Festival, which featured Roy Eldridge, Woody Herman, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines, and Mel Lewis.[9] Witherspoon later recorded with Gerry Mulligan, Leroy Vinnegar, Richard "Groove" Holmes, and T-Bone Walker.[2]

Tours and successes[edit]

In 1961 he toured Europe with Buck Clayton and returned to the UK on many occasions, featuring on a mid-'60s live UK recording, Spoon Sings and Swings (1966), with tenor sax player Dick Morrissey's quartet. In 1970, Witherspoon appeared on Brother Jack McDuff's London Blue Note recording To Seek a New Home together with British jazz musicians, including Dick Morrissey, again, and Terry Smith. In the 1970s Witherspoon also recorded the album Guilty! (later released on CD as Black & White Blues) with Eric Burdon[2] and featuring Ike White & the San Quentin Prison Band. He then toured with a band of his own featuring Robben Ford and Russ Ferrante. A recording from this period, Spoonful, featured Witherspoon accompanied by Robben Ford, Joe Sample, Cornell Dupree, Thad Jones, and Bernard Purdie.[10] He continued performing and recording into the 1990s.[10]

Other performers with whom Witherspoon recorded include Jimmy Rowles, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Vernon Alley, Mel Lewis, Teddy Edwards, Gerald Wiggins, John Clayton, Paul Humphrey, Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Jimmy Smith, Long John Baldry, Junior Mance, Ellington bassist Jimmy Woode, Kenny Clarke, Gerry Mulligan, Jim Mullen, Count Basie, Van Morrison, Dutch Swing College Band, and Gene Gilbeaux.


In the 1995 film Georgia, Witherspoon portrayed Trucker, a traveling, gun-collecting blues singer who has a relationship with the troubled character Sadie, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

He played Nate Williams in The Black Godfather (1974) and Percy in To Sleep with Anger (1990).

Personal life, death and legacy[edit]

Witherspoon died of throat cancer on September 18, 1997, in Los Angeles, California.[11][2]



  • 1947-48: The Chronological 1947-1948 (Classics 'Blues & Rhythm series', [2003])
  • 1948-49: The Chronological 1948-1949 (Classics 'Blues & Rhythm series', [2004])
  • 1950-51: The Chronological 1950-1951 (Classics 'Blues & Rhythm series', [2006])
  • 1952-53: Miss Miss Mistreater: The Very Best of Jimmy Witherspoon (King/Collectables, [2004]) [Federal sessions]
  • 1954-59: Spoon So Easy (The Chess Years) (Chess/MCA, [1990])
  • Wilbur De Paris Plays & Jimmy Witherspoon Sings New Orleans Blues (Atlantic, 1957)
  • Goin' to Kansas City Blues with Jay McShann (RCA Victor, 1957 [1958])
  • Singin' the Blues (World Pacific, 1958 [1959])
  • At the Monterey Jazz Festival (HiFi Jazz/Everest, 1959 [1960])
  • Feelin' the Spirit (HiFi Jazz/Everest, 1959)
  • At the Renaissance with Gerry Mulligan, Ben Webster (HiFi Jazz/Everest, 1959 [1960])
  • Jimmy Witherspoon (Crown, 1960)
  • Sings the Blues (Crown, 1960)
  • With Buck Clayton (Vogue [UK], 1961)
  • Spoon (Reprise, 1961)
  • Hey, Mrs. Jones (Reprise, 1962)
  • Roots with Ben Webster (Reprise, 1962)
  • 1963: Baby, Baby, Baby (Prestige)
  • 1963: Evenin' Blues (Prestige, [1964])
  • 1963: Blues Around the Clock (Prestige, [1964])
  • 1964: Blue Spoon (Prestige, [1965])
  • 1964: Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues (Prestige, [1965])
  • 1965: Spoon in London (Prestige, [1966])
  • 1965: Blues for Easy Livers (Prestige, [1966])
  • Blues for Spoon and Groove with Richard "Groove" Holmes (Surrey, 1965)
  • Jimmy Witherspoon in Person (Vogue [UK], 1965) reissue of With Buck Clayton
  • Spoon Sings and Swings with Dick Morrissey (Fontana [UK], 1966)
  • A Spoonful of Blues (Ember, 1966) reissue of Jimmy Witherspoon
  • A Blue Point of View (Verve, 1966)
  • The Blues is Now with Jack McDuff (Verve,1963 1967)
  • A Spoonful of Soul (Verve, 1968)
  • Live with Ben Webster (Stateside [UK], 1968)
  • The Blues Singer (ABC/Bluesway, 1969)
  • Hunh! (ABC/Bluesway 1970)
  • Handbags and Gladrags (ABC, 1971)
  • Guilty with Eric Burdon (MGM, 1971)
  • The Spoon Concerts (Fantasy [2LP], 1972) reissues of At the Monterey Jazz Festival and At the Renaissance
  • Previously Unreleased Recordings with Ben Webster (Verve, 1973)
  • Love is a Five Letter Word (Capitol, 1975)
  • Spoonful (Blue Note, 1975)
  • Live Jimmy Witherspoon & Robben Ford (LAX/Avenue Jazz/Rhino, 1977)
  • Live at the Watts Jazz Festival, Volume 1 with Willie Bobo, Gene Ammons (LAX/Avenue Jazz/Rhino, 1977)
  • Live in Paris with Buck Clayton (Jazz Vogue [UK], 1977)
  • Sings The Blues (Black & Blue, 1978)
  • Spoon's Life (Isabel, 1980)
  • Olympia Concert (Inner City, 1980) reissue of Jimmy Witherspoon in Person
  • Big Blues (JSP, 1981)
  • Sings the Blues with Panama Francis and the Savoy Sultans (Muse, 1983)
  • Spoonful O' Blues (Kent, 1984) compilation
  • Patcha, Patcha, All Night Long with Big Joe Turner (Pablo, 1985)
  • Midnight Lady Called the Blues (Muse, 1986)
  • Never Knew This Kind of Hurt Before: The Bluesway Sessions (Charly, 1988) compilation
  • Rockin' L.A. (Fantasy, 1989)
  • Live (At Condon's, New York) (Who's Who in Jazz, 1990)
  • Jay's Blues (The Complete Federal Sessions) (Charly R&B, 1991) compilation
  • Blowin' in from Kansas City (Flair/Virgin, 1991) compilation
  • Call My Baby (Night Train International, 1991) compilation
  • Live at the Notodden Blues Festival with Robben Ford (Blue Rock'it, 1992)
  • The Blues, the Whole Blues and Nothing But the Blues (Indigo, 1993)
  • Ain't Nobody's Business (The Blues Collection) (Orbis, 1992) compilation
  • Live at the Mint with Robben Ford (On The Spot/Private Music, 1994 [1996])
  • Cold Blooded Boogie (Night Train International, 1995) compilation
  • Spoon's Blues (Stony Plain, 1995)
  • Jimmy Witherspoon with the Junior Mance Trio (Stony Plain, 1997) previously unreleased live recording from 1969
  • Tougher Than Tough (Blue Moon, 1997) reissue of At the Renaissance
  • Jazz Me Blues: The Best of Jimmy Witherspoon (Prestige, 1998) compilation
  • Jimmy Witherspoon with the Duke Robillard Band (Stony Plain, 2000)
  • Spoon Meets Pao with Eugene Pao (Eastside, 2002) recorded 1990
  • Urban Blues Singing Legend (JSP [4CD], 2006) compilation
  • Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival with Robben Ford (Monterey Jazz Festival/Concord, 2008)

Chart singles[edit]

Year Single Chart Positions
US Pop[12] US
1949 "Ain't Nobody's Business (Parts 1 & 2)" (Supreme) 1
"In the Evening" (Supreme) 5
"No Rollin' Blues" (Modern) 4
"Big Fine Girl" (Modern) 4
1952 "The Wind is Blowin'" (Modern) 7
1965 "You're Next" (Prestige) 98
1975 "Love is a Five Letter Word" (Capitol) 31


  • 2000: Jazz Casual: Jimmy Witherspoon & Ben Webster (Jazz Casual/Idem)[14] reissued in: Jazz Casual: Jimmy Witherspoon/Jimmy Rushing [2003]
  • 2003: 20th Century Jazz Masters: Mel Tormé/Jimmy Witherspoon/Carmen McRae/Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan
  • 2009: Jimmy Witherspoon: Goin' Down Blues with Marshal Royal and John Collins


  1. ^ a b Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music. Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "About the Spoon". Official Spoon. Archived from the original on September 16, 2007. Retrieved December 8, 2007.
  3. ^ "49ers Roster". 49ers.com. San Francisco 49ers. Archived from the original on March 4, 2018. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  4. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 13. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  5. ^ O'Connell, Sean J. (2014). Los Angeles's Central Avenue jazz. Charleston, South Carolina. ISBN 978-1467131308. OCLC 866922945.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ "Star Studded Show At Wrigley Field Sunday, July 10th" Article The California Eagle June 30, 1949.
  7. ^ "Jazz Greats Will Entertain Throngs". The California Eagle. July 5, 1951.
  8. ^ "That Man Who Sings The Blues". Los Angeles Sentinel. May 15, 1952.
  9. ^ Russell (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. p. 192.
  10. ^ a b "Spoon's Discography". Official Spoon. Archived from the original on September 16, 2007. Retrieved December 8, 2007.
  11. ^ Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1996–1997". TheDeadRockStarsClub.com. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955–2002. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 774. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–1995. Record Research. p. 490.
  14. ^ "Jimmy Witherspoon, Jazz Casual: Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic.com. December 2, 2003. Retrieved August 30, 2015.

External links[edit]