April 28, 1934

On this day in 1934, Charley Patton (a.k.a., Charlie Patton) died of a mitral valve disorder on the Heathman-Dedham plantation near Indianola, Mississippi.

He is buried in Holly Ridge, located in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Patton has been deemed to be the Father of the Delta Blues by many of the musicians who are inspired by his music.

He was born sometime between 1887 and 1891 in Hinds County, Mississippi, to Bill and Annie Patton, and spent most of his life living in Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta. Talk quickly grew over Patton’s biological father, and rumours that another man, Henderson Chatmon, had fathered the the young Patton. Patton had light skin and Caucasian features; rumours went so far as to accuse Patton of being Mexican or a full-blood Cherokee. He, in fact, was a mix of African-American, White and Cherokee (his grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee).

In 1900, the Patton family moved to the infamous Dockery Plantation sawmill and cotton farm, near Ruleville, Mississippi. It was at Dockery that Patton would spend time with Henry Sloan, a musician who had recently started playing in a an unusual style, known today as the early blues. By the time Patton reached 19 years old, he was an accomplished songwriter and artist himself, having written ‘Pony Blues’, a formative song for that generation. Very popular in the Southern States, Patton played everything from nineteenth-century ballads, white hillbilly tunes, country songs and, of course, the deep blues.

Patton was far before his time when it came to performing; he often played with the guitar down on his knees, behind his head, or behind his back. It is said that though Patton’s voice was gritty, it was loud and could carry an extremely far distance without any microphones or amplifiers.

In 2001, Bob Dylan dedicated his song ‘High Water (For Charley Patton)’, on his record Love and Theft, to Patton.

In 2006, Patton’s song, ‘Pony Blues’, was included in the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. The board chooses songs annually that are culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.

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