Little Willy Foster

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Little Willy Foster
Also known asLittle Willie Foster
Born(1922-04-20)April 20, 1922
Dublin, Mississippi, United States
OriginChicago, Illinois, United States
DiedNovember 25, 1987(1987-11-25) (aged 65)
GenresChicago blues
Occupation(s)Harmonicist, singer, songwriter
InstrumentsHarmonica, guitar, vocals
Years activeMid-1940s–1973
LabelsParrot, Cobra

Little Willy Foster or Little Willie Foster (April 20, 1922[1][nb 1] – November 25, 1987)[5] was an American Chicago blues harmonicist, singer, and songwriter.


Foster was born in Dublin, Mississippi,[3] to Major Foster and Rosie Brown. He was raised on a plantation about ten miles south of Clarksdale. His mother died when he was aged five, and he was raised by his father, who was a local musician. Willy worked the fields from an early age and had little formal education. His father taught him to play the family's piano, and Willy later taught himself to master both the guitar and the harmonica. By 1942, he was working in Clarksdale. Around 1943, he relocated to Chicago.[3] He played the blues around the city and teamed up with Floyd Jones, Lazy Bill Lucas, and his cousin Leroy Foster. Having befriended Big Walter Horton, Foster learned to play the harmonica in Horton's Chicago blues style. Beginning in the mid-1940s, this led to periodic work for Foster on Maxwell Street and in clubs in the city for over a decade.[2][3] He also worked during this time in a band with Homesick James, Moody Jones and Floyd Jones.[2]

In January 1955, Foster recorded two sides for Parrot Records, his own compositions "Falling Rain Blues" and "Four Day Jump", with accompaniment by Lucas, Jones and Eddie Taylor.[2][3][5] Foster reportedly incurred the displeasure of the record label's owner, Al Benson, for reporting him to the American Federation of Musicians for underpaid dues on the recordings.[6] In March 1957, Foster was back in a recording studio in Chicago, where he recorded two more of his songs, "Crying the Blues" and "Little Girl".[3] Regarding the former, AllMusic noted that it "reflected both his emotional singing and his wailing, swooping harmonica".[2]

From this point onwards, his personal life started to degenerate. Attending a house party, Foster was accidentally shot in the head by a woman playing with a handgun. The shooting caused partial paralysis and severely affected his ability to speak.[3] He made a slow recovery but rarely played in public thereafter.[2] In January 1974, Foster voluntarily surrendered himself to the local police after he shot and killed his roommate. Pleading self-defense and impairment of judgement due to his brain injury, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was sent to a state hospital in 1975.[3]

Foster died of kidney cancer on November 25, 1987, aged 65, in Chicago.[3][4]

His four released recordings are available on numerous compilation albums, issued both before and after his death.[5]


The variant spelling of his first name is due to the different spellings on his two singles.[5]

He is not to be confused with (but has been, in literature and record listings, etc.) another blues harmonica player, Willie James Foster (September 19, 1921 – May 20, 2001).[4][5][7]

Singles discography[edit]

Year A-side
Record label Notes
1955 "Falling Rain Blues"
"Four Day Jump"
Parrot / Blue Lake Accompanied by Lazy Bill Lucas, Floyd Jones, Eddie Taylor
1957 "Crying the Blues"
"Little Girl"
Cobra Accompanied by Lazy Bill Lucas, Floyd Jones, Eddie Taylor, Triolue High


See also[edit]


  1. ^ There is disagreement between usually reliable sources, such as AllMusic,[2] which gives his date of birth as April 5, 1922, and other sources, such as an encyclopedia,[3] another published work,[4] and an online discography,[5] which concur on April 20, 1922.


  1. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p. 194. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Little Willy Foster: Biography". Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Komara, Edward M. (2006). Blues Encyclopedia. p. 342. ISBN 0-415-92699-8. Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-313-34423-7. Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Little Willy Foster Discography". Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  6. ^ "Bman's Blues Report". Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  7. ^ Ford, Robert (2007). A Blues Bibliography. p. 356. ISBN 0-415-97887-4. Retrieved November 19, 2014.