CHICAGO – Private funeral services were scheduled for today (Sunday) for a man who made a lasting and favorable impression on the blues industry. Grammy-winning blues musician David “Honeyboy” Edwards, believed to be the oldest surviving Delta bluesman an
CHICAGO – Private funeral services were scheduled for today (Sunday) for a man who made a lasting and favorable impression on the blues industry. Grammy-winning blues musician David "Honeyboy" Edwards, believed to be the oldest surviving Delta bluesman and whose roots stretched back to blues legend Robert Johnson, died early Monday, Aug. 29, in his Chicago home.
Edwards, who reportedly had congestive heart failure, was 96.
Edwards achieved many accolades during his career which included the induction into the Blues Hall of Fame, several Grammy Awards, the Mississippi Arts Commission Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award and many other notable recognitions. However, Edwards said one of his fondest memories was being honored in his hometown with a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail on April 13, 2007.
C. Sade Turnipseed, Executive Director of Khafre Inc. and co-owner of ‘da House of Khafre in Indianola, said during his career, Edwards not only played the blues, but he lived it.
"Honeyboy wrote a book about his experiences and many, many people have videotaped interviews with him," she said. "And he was free with it. He understood the importance of the African American community having access to this information and benefiting from it. And he wanted them to understand their history and what evoked the blues. The pain was real. The stories were real. It just didn’t come from a cotton field," she continued. "It came from us and [the blues] was our way of soothing that pain and healing from that life of picking cotton."
David "Honeyboy" Edwards was born in the Delta in Shaw, Mississippi on June 28, 1915. His father, a guitarist and violinist, reportedly bought his son a guitar for $4 from a plantation worker and this led to Edwards leaving home at the age 14 to travel with bluesman Big Joe Williams.
By the time he was 17, Edwards was playing professionally in Memphis, and by the 1940s, he’d moved to Chicago where he played on Maxwell Street, small clubs and street corners. Edwards went on to perform with a number of notable musicians, including Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Muddy Waters. Among Edwards’ hit songs were "Long Tall Woman Blues,” "Gamblin Man” and "Just Like Jesse James.”
Edwards was recorded for the Library of Congress in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1942.
Edwards earned his nickname "Honeyboy” from his sister, who told his mother to "look at honey boy” when Edwards stumbled as he learned to walk as a toddler.
Although his career spanned for nearly 80 years and he had a wide range of fans all around the world, Turnipseed, who has worked to promote the music and art of the Delta Renaissance, said she saw the need to "reacquaint" Edwards to a new era of fans in his native Mississippi.
"I’ve known Honeyboy for several years," she said. "I’m probably his biggest fan and biggest advocate in the Delta. And when I was working for MACE, I had to reintroduce him to the community because he had been in Chicago for so long, and this kind of opened the door again for him here. But he is who he is. He’s a legend. He’s the only one that has survived from that original era of the blues and he’s the only one that could tell that story from his own experiences."
Edwards was also known for being an oral historian of the music genre and would tell biographical stories between songs at his shows, said his longtime agent Michael Frank of Earwig Music Company. Edwards gathered those stories in his book, "The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing: The Life and Times of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards,” released in 1997.
He was also the subject of the Scott Taradash documentary "Honeyboy," in 2002 and he was featured in Martin Scorsese’s PBS series "The Blues."
"He had a photographic memory of every fine detail of his entire life,” his agent, 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.”
"He was a very unique man and very rare artist," Turnipseed said. "He had this ability to recall everything. He could actually tell you the color of the sky and so many other details about the many times he played with these various artists. He was a true African grio. He was a blues library. And it’s sad because the information he takes with him we’re just going to have to read about."
Turnipseed, who will host the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival in Greenville, on Sept. 17, said Edwards performed at the festival – the longest running blues festival in the world – every time he came to Mississippi.
Turnipseed said he performed at the festival last year and with his death, she’s planning a very special tribute in his honor this year.
"This is the 34th year of the festival and I was able to introduce him last year and give him an award from MACE," she said. "We created this Living Legend blues award and gave it to him. So this year, I’m going to do it up big for him, give him a really nice tribute."
Edwards was known for his far-ranging travels and played internationally, his manager said. In his 90s, he was still playing about 70 shows a year and would visit with the audience after every show, taking pictures, signing autographs and talking with fans, Frank said.
Edwards played his last shows in April at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, and prior to his health turning for the worse following that, Edwards was scheduled to play numerous gigs across the USA and in Europe.
He was scheduled to perform at the concert series in Millennium Park in Chicago on Aug. 29, the day he died, Frank said.
"Blues ain’t never going anywhere,” Edwards told The Associated Press in 2008. "It can get slow, but it ain’t going nowhere…Ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Turnipseed, who said Edwards will be remembered for his "class, wisdom and sophistication," said he will be sorely missed.
"He’s a legend," she said. "He knew all these people from Charley Patton to Robert Johnson. He played with them and there are very few others who can actually make that claim. He’s irreplaceable and we have truly lost an era and that loss is so significant."
Edwards is survived by his daughter Betty Washington and stepdaughter Dolly McGinister.
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)