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The Traditional Delta and Country Blues

Sam Chatmon

b. January 10, 1897 in Bolton, MS, d. February 2, 1983 in Hollandale, MS, Delta blues guitarist and singer. He was a member of the Mississippi Sheiks. He may have been Charlie Patton's half-brother.

Chatmon was born in Bolton, Mississippi. His family was well known in Mississippi for their musical talents; he was a member of the family's string band when he was young. In an interview he stated that he started playing the guitar at the age of 3, laying it flat on the floor and crawling under it. He regularly performed for white audiences in the 1900s. The Chatmon band played rags, ballads, and popular dance tunes. Two of Sam's brothers, the fiddler Lonnie Chatmon and the guitarist Bo Carter, performed with the guitarist Walter Vinson as the Mississippi Sheiks. Chatmon played the banjo, mandolin, and harmonica in addition to the guitar. He performed at parties and on street corners throughout Mississippi for small pay and tips. In the 1930s he recorded with the Sheiks and also with his brother Lonnie as the Chatman Brothers. Chatmon moved to Hollandale, Mississippi, in the early 1940s and worked on plantations there. He was rediscovered in 1960 and started a new chapter of his career as a folk-blues artist. In the same year he recorded for Arhoolie Records. He toured extensively during the 1960s and 1970s. While in California in 1970 he made several recordings with Sue Draheim, Kenny Hall, Ed Littlefield, Lou Curtiss, Kathy Hall, Will Scarlett and others at Sweet's Mill Music Camp, forming a group he called "The California Sheiks". He played many of the largest and best-known folk festivals, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., in 1972, the Mariposa Folk Festival in Toronto in 1974, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1976. A headstone memorial to Chatmon with the inscription "Sitting on top of the World" was paid for by Bonnie Raitt through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund and placed in Sanders Memorial Cemetery, Hollandale, Mississippi, on March 14, 1998, in a ceremony held at the Hollandale Municipal Building, celebrated by the Mayor and members of the city council of Hollandale, with over 100 attendees.


Sam Chatmon Biography by Jim O'Neal

A product of the prodigious Chatmon family that included not only Lonnie of the famous Mississippi Sheiks but also the prolific Bo Carter and several other blues-playing brothers, Sam Chatmon survived to be hailed as a modern-day blues guru when he began performing and recording again in the '60s. Sam continued brother Bo's tradition of sly double-entendre blues to entertain a new generation of aficionados, but he also showed a more serious side on songs like the title track of the early Arhoolie anthology I Have to Paint My Face.

Chatmon began playing music as a child, occasionally with his family's string band, as well as the Mississippi Sheiks. Sam launched his own solo career in the early '30s. While he performed and recorded as a solo act, he would still record with the Mississippi Sheiks and with his brother Lonnie. Throughout the '30s, Sam travelled throughout the south, playing with a variety of minstrel and medicine shows. He stopped travelling in the early '40s, making himself a home in Hollandale, Mississippi, where he worked on plantations.

For the next two decades, Sam Chatmon was essentially retired from music and only worked on the plantations. When the blues revival arrived in the late '50s, he managed to capitalize on the genre's resurgent popularity. In 1960, he signed a contract with Arhoolie and he recorded a number of songs for the label. Throughout the '60s and '70s, he recorded for a variety of labels, as well as playing clubs and blues and folk festivals across America. Chatmon was an active performer and recording artist until his death in 1983.