Walter Brown "Brownie" McGhee (November 30, 1915–February 16, 1996) was a blues singer and musician. McGhee preserved and popularized the blues style of the Piedmont area of the Carolinas. Piedmont blues meshes bouncy guitar picking and strumming with rhythmic, hooting harmonica; Mr. McGhee's intricate parts combined bass lines, chords and countermelodies while he sang with earthy conviction, bringing fingerpicking Piedmont blues to an international audience.
Walter Brown McGhee grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee. He contracted polio at the age of four, which left him with a serious limp and plenty of time away from school to practice the guitar chords that he'd learned from his father, Duff McGhee. Brownie's younger brother, Granville McGhee, was also a talented guitarist who later hit big with the romping "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee"; he earned his nickname, "Stick," by pushing his crippled sibling around in a small cart propelled by a stick.
A 1937 operation sponsored by the March of Dimes restored most of McGhee's mobility. Off he went as soon as he recovered, traveling and playing throughout the Southeast. His jaunts brought him into contact with washboard player George "Oh Red" (or "Bull City Red") Washington in 1940, who in turn introduced McGhee to talent scout J.B. Long. Long got him a recording contract with OKeh/Columbia in 1940; his debut session in Chicago produced a dozen tracks over two days.
Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry recorded Just a Closer Walk With Thee (Live) at Jenny Lind Hall in 1957.
One of McGhee's final concert appearances came at the 1995 Chicago Blues Festival
Brownie McGhee died at Summit Hospital in Oakland, at the age of 80.
Links and References
Brownie McGhee, 80, Early Piedmont Bluesman New York Times
- Brownie McGhee All Music
NEA National Heritage Fellowships: Brownie McGhee, Blues Guitarist
- Brownie McGhee Wikipedia
Brownie McGhee - Profile of Piedmont Bluesman Brownie McGhee
Glory, Glory (from Just a Closer Walk With Thee) on YouTube