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With a long and varied career, Lee Conley Bradley, soon to be known as Big Bill Broonzy, is arguably one of the most influential blues artists of the 20th century, playing country and urban blues crossing into the American folk music revival. He was also a prolific composer, having published over 300 songs.
The actual date and location of his birth cannot be verified but it is known he was one of 17 children. He started his musical career by building himself a fiddle out of a cigar box, switched to guitar when he arrived in Chicago in the 1920s but soon realized he needed to do odd jobs to supplement his musical endeavors.
In the 1930s, his reputation grew to the point where he was asked to fill in for the recently deceased Robert Johnson at the John Hammond produced Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall concert and by the 1940s, he had honed his song writing skills to the point where he was recording songs that helped create the bridge that allowed post WWII Chicago blues to evolved into electric blues.
In the 1950s, Europe discovered his talents, with Broonzy enjoying critical praise whenever he played, but this also allowed him to perform with artists such as Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and Pete Seeger. He is credited as an influence by artists including Eric Clapton, Phil and Dave Alvin of the Blasters, Bert Jansch and John Lennon.
This 1953 concert comes during the great wave of acclaim in Europe for Broonzy. Recorded at the famed Amsterdam Concertgebouw, it features Broonzy in a relaxed setting; talking to the audience and playing the music that inspired and moved so many.
Sadly, at the height of his career, Broonzy passed away at age 65 from throat cancer. He broke racial barriers, performing before black and white audiences, he crossed genres, spanning acoustic and electric blues, folk, spirituals, gospel, ragtime. His talents led to his induction into the first class of the Blues Halls of Fame with 20 other legendary bluesmen.
He’s gone but his legacy lives on in in his music and the artists that he influenced.