As in many spheres, women take second place when human achievement is recorded and made public, and blues harp playing is no different.
We can list John Lee Williamson, DeFord Bailey, Rice Miller,Walter Horton, Junior Wells,Little Walter, Sonny Terry, Sugar Blue,Charlie Musselwhite, Paul Butterfield , James Cotton,George Smith , Carey Bell and many others…but can we remember the female players?
So lets champion some of the great women , both past and present while looking to the future.
Lets start with today, with some great playing by Rachelle Plas,from France (Mellow Down Easy -Little Walter):
Now lets also go back in time and enjoy the playing and show-womanship of Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton:
Rock me baby
little red rooster
and a great version of ball and chain –with Buddy Guy’s band
and moving back to the “modern’ age with Rachelle Plas , who is a particular favourite of mine:
A couple of clips illustrating how slow and sensitive her playing can be as well as one showing her faster rocking capabilities
tribute to Sonny boy
Although she may be the star of the future there are many other female harp players :
Mariana Borssato – Saint Louis Blues: some clean notes…
WINNER of The 2009, 2013 & 2015 Blues Audience Newsletter Reader’s Poll for
“Most Outstanding Harmonica Player”
Roxy Perry, *
Big Nancy big band, bring it on home
Sandra Vasquez -another Latin American harp player
Sweet Louise 1988
Norman Davis has created the DEFINITIVE website on female harmonica players. It’s entitled, not surprisingly, “Hermonicas”
Here’s a few notes from this excellent site:
One of the first women to become popular playing the harmonica was Mary Travers who sang and also played violin, accordion, spoons and jaw harp. She became widely popular in French-speaking Canada as Madame Bolduc in the late 20s and 30s and made her first records in 1929. She was most likely the first woman to record on the harmonica.
One of the first women known to play blues harmonica was Minnie Wallace. She was a singer and the mother of blues singer Lucille Hegamin. She played in the Memphis Jug Band, but the harmonica on her few recordings was played by someone else. Very little is written about her in the blues history books.
In 1950, John Brim recorded “Strange Man” featuring his wife Grace on vocals and harmonica. Grace Brim would become known as the “Queen of the Harmonica” and she made several recordings in the ’50s with and without her husband.
I’ve recently had my attention directed to several excellent YT videos by women players headlined “Mulheres Gaitistas”–“Women Harmonica Players.” Here’s a webpage you should check out: http://www.myspace.com/mulheresgaitistas
Little Jenny – out go the lights
In 1952, singer/guitarist Norman “Guitar Slim” Green recorded two songs with a woman identified only as “Turner” on harmonica. That same year Big Mama Thornton recorded “Hound Dog” for Peacock Records in Texas. She did not play harmonica on the recording. The B-side was “They Call Me Big Mama.” The record climbed to number one on the Billboard R&B charts, where it stayed for seven weeks and sold almost two million copies. Big Mama collected only about $500 for her big hit.
I hope this short review has whetted your appetite to search out more female harmonica players. More to come….