Willie McTell was born near Augusta in Georgia in 1901. He was blind from birth and possibly as a result his sense of hearing and touch were extraordinary. All his family were musical, his mother and his father both played guitar, and he was also related to 'Georgia' Tom Dorsey. His parents first taught him the harmonica and the accordion but he was soon playing the guitar, an instrument for which he had an obvious aptitude. His style was very rare among bluesmen in that, using a twelve string guitar, he used an unusual slide and finger-picking style that made it sound like he was playing more than one guitar. During his teen years he studied at a number of schools for the blind and during this period he picked up some formal musical knowledge. He could also read and write music in Braille, which gave him an advantage over many of his contemporaries.

McTell became a highly skilled musician equally at home with ragtime, spirituals, story-songs, and  hillbilly numbers.  He went on the road, working carnivals and vaudeville, and performing at parties and picnics and other outdoor venues, and became a popular attraction. He began recording in 1927 when he had two sessions for Victor Records, one of which produced the classic "Statesboro Blues". As was common at the time, McTell worked under a range of names, e.g. Blind Willie, Blind Sammie, and Hot Shot Willie, and recorded and performed with a variety of partners including Buddy Moss and Curly Weaver. He lived and worked in Atlanta for most of his career and there he was extremely popular but nationally, and partly as a result of the depression, his record sales were disappointing. His music was recorded for posterity by Alan Lomax in 1940, and he resumed commercial recording after the second world war, having sessions for both the Atlantic and Regal labels. Again sales were disappointing and Willie resigned himself to remaining a local performer in Atlanta with a faithful audience. He did record one more time, in 1956, and then gave up music, becoming ordained as a minister to an Atlanta church where he remained until his death in 1959.

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