Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Honeyboy Edwards' death ends era of original Mississippi bluesmen

The Grammy-winning blues musician David 'Honeyboy' Edwards has died in Chicago at the age of 96.

David "Honeyboy" Edwards, a Grammy-winning guitarist believed to be the oldest surviving member of the first generation of Mississippi blues musicians, died on Monday in his Chicago home at the age of 96.

Edwards only stopped performing in April. He played his last shows at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi, before his health declined and he cancelled concerts through to autumn, according to his manager, Michael Frank, of Earwig Music Company.

"That piece of the history from that generation, people have to read about it from now on," Frank said. "They won't be able to experience the way the early guys played it, except from somebody who's learnt it off of a record."

Born in 1915 in Shaw, Mississippi, Edwards learnt the guitar growing up and started playing professionally at the age of 17 in Memphis, Tennessee.

He moved to Chicago in the 1940s and began playing on the small clubs and street corners of its blues hub, Maxwell Street. By the 1950s, Edwards had played with almost every bluesman of note - including Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Charlie Patton and Muddy Waters. Among his hit songs were Gamblin' Man and Just Like Jesse James.

"Blues ain't never going anywhere," Edwards told Associated Press in 2008. "It can get slow, but it ain't going nowhere. You play a lowdown dirty shame slow and lonesome, 'my mama dead, my papa across the sea, I ain't dead but I'm just supposed to be blues'. You can take that same blues, make it up-tempo, a shuffle blues, that's what rock 'n' roll did with it. So blues ain't going nowhere. Ain't goin' nowhere."

In 2008, Edwards won a Grammy for the best traditional blues album, and last year was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.

Known as an oral historian of the music genre, he would tell biographical stories between songs at his shows and was recorded for the Library of Congress in Clarksdale in 1942.

"He had photographic memory of every fine detail of his entire life," Frank said. "All the way up until he died. He had so much history that so many other musicians didn't have and he was able to tell it."

Edwards gathered those stories in the 1997 book The World Don't Owe Me Nothing: The Life and Times of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards. According to the book, he learnt to play on a guitar his father bought for US$8 from a sharecropper in 1929.

"I watched my daddy play that guitar, and whenever I could I would pick it up and strum on it," Edwards wrote.

"He had his own unique style," Frank said. "But it was a 75-year-old style and it was a synthesis of the people before him and in his time."

In his 90s, Edwards was still playing about 70 shows a year, meeting the audience after every show, taking pictures, signing autographs and chatting to fans.

He earned his nickname "Honeyboy" from his sister, who told his mother to "look at Honeyboy" when Edwards stumbled as he learnt to walk as a toddler. He is survived by his daughter Betty Washington and stepdaughter Dolly McGinister.

* Associated Press

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Hajer Almosleh, the winner of the last year's short story competition, at her home in Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

Get involved with The National’s short-story competition

Writers have two weeks to craft a winning submission, under the title and theme "The Turning Point".

 It is believed that the desert-like planet of Tatooine is being recreated for Star Wars: Episode VII. Could that be where filming in the UAE comes in? Courtesy Lucasfilms

Could the force be with us? The search for Star Wars truth

On the hunt for the Star Wars: Episode VII set, which a growing number of people are sure is in Abu Dhabi, but no one can seem to find.

 With an estimated 18,000 comic and film fans having already paid a visit to this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con, organisers are hopeful they will have surpassed last year total, of 21,000, by its close. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

In pictures: Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai

Dubai's World Trade Center was awash with people visiting this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con. Here's some of our best pictures.

 Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, presents Quincy Jones with the Abu Dhabi Festival Award as the Admaf founder Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo applauds. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.

A candid talk with Quincy Jones about the UAE, Lil Wayne and the Abu Dhabi Festival award

The Abu Dhabi Festival honoree Quincy Jones discusses his legendary career as a music producer, the return of Dubai Music Week and why he can’t handle the rapper Lil Wayne.

 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge arrive at Wellington Military Terminal on an RNZAF 757 from Sydney on April 7, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

In pictures: Will and Kate visit Australia and New Zealand

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge are on a tour Down Under for three weeks.

 A protester gives a victory sign during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2011. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Street life: humanity’s future depends on ability to negotiate and sustain public space

Negotiating our ever more crowded cities and maintaining vibrant public spaces are among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National