Mance Lipscomb, guitarist and songster, was born in April 1895, in Navasota, Texas, where he spent most of his life working as a farmer. His father was an Alabama slave who acquired the surname Lipscomb from the Texas family to whom he had been sold. Lipscomb, given the name 'Bowdie Glenn' by his parents, changed his name to Mance when a close friend called Emancipation, passed away. Lipscomb was one of the last representatives of the nineteenth-century songster tradition of the American South, which predated the development of the blues. Though songsters might incorporate blues into their repertoires, as did Lipscomb, they performed a wide variety of material in diverse styles, much of it common to both black and white traditions in the South. These included ballads, rags, dance pieces, and popular, sacred, and secular songs, and the way they were performed depended on whether the audience was black or white.

Lipscomb always referred to himself as a songster, not a guitarist or "blues singer," since he played "all kinds of music." His wide repertoire is said to have contained 350 pieces that spanned two centuries, and he learned many of these from itinerant performers passing through his locality. He was born into a musical family and began playing at an early age. His father was a fiddler, his uncle played the banjo, and his brothers were guitarists. His mother bought him a guitar when he was eleven, and he was soon accompanying his father, and later entertaining alone, at suppers, picnics and Saturday night dances, often using a pen knife as a slide. Although he had some contact with early recording artists such as fellow Texans Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie Johnson and country star James Charles (Jimmie) Rodgers, he did not make recordings until he was 'discovered' during the blues/folk-song revival of the 1960s.

Between 1905 and 1956 he worked solely as a tenant farmer, performing at the weekends to supplement his income. Between 1956 and 1958 Lipscomb lived in Houston, and worked for a logging company during the day, playing at night in bars where among others he played with was Sam "Lightnin” Hopkins, whom Lipscomb had first met 20 years earlier in Galveston. He finally returned to Navasota after making enough money to buy some land and build a house of his own. He was actually working as foreman of a motorway maintenance gang when a blues researcher found and recorded him in 1960. In the following ten years Lipscomb won wide acclaim from white audiences and other performers for his virtuosity as a guitarist and for the breadth of his repertoire. He made numerous recordings and appeared at the Berkeley Folk Festival of 1961, where he played before a crowd of more than 40,000. However despite his popularity, he never made a great deal of money, and in 1974, in poor health, he entered a nursing home. He eventually died in Navasota, in January 1976, aged 80.