Nearly A Century After Blues Musician Robert Johnson’s Death, A Group of Young Artists Are Making Him Go Viral
28th January 2021 by BOTWC Staff
28th January 2021 by BOTWC Staff
His legacy is alive and well!
Nearly a century after blues musician Robert Johnson’s death, a group of young artists are helping his music go viral, Buzzfeed reports.
Jontavious Willis (24), Christone “Kingfish” Ingram (22), and Marquise Knox (29) are all young, accomplished blues musicians and friends. Willis and Ingram are both Grammy nominated and Knox, a St. Louis native, has performed with the likes of B.B. King and Pinetop Perkins. The rising stars recently took to social media to spark a new challenge, #TheRobertJohnsonChallenge, inspired by the late blues musician Robert Johnson. The trio challenged viewers to try to learn a song by Johnson then upload a performance of it.
The three said they were inspired last summer after a new photo of Johnson appeared on the cover of the book Brother Robert: Growing Up with Robert Johnson by the late musician’s stepsister Annye C. Anderson. Johnson has long been a public figure shrouded in mystery and this is only the 3rd verifiable photo of the musician in history.
Photo Courtesy of Hachette Books/Buzzfeed
As folklore would have it, Johnson allegedly left his hometown after making a name for himself as one of the worst guitarists in the city. He returned less than two years later, shocking everybody by turning out to be the best guitarist on the planet, sparking rumors that Johnson made a deal with the devil at a crossroads at midnight. Adding fuel to the fire, just a few short years later, at age 27, Johnson was mysteriously poisoned and killed.
In his short time on earth, Johnson recorded just 29 songs, leaving a massive influence on the music world and inspiring legends like Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin. While not much can be tested to verify fact versus fiction about Johnson’s life, the newest photo sparked a different image in the minds of the three friends.
Marquise Knox performing “Me and the Devil Blues.” Courtesy of @MarquiseKnox/Facebook
“It was eye-opening. He was such a young Black guy, you can see the life in him. A lot of people try to depict him as this mysterious man who tried to sell his soul to the devil at the crossroads, but it made me see him as one of my homeboys. A 25-year-old. An innocent young dude ready to fill the world with music. As my brother Marquise said, ‘I don’t see anyone who sold his soul at the crossroads.’ He’s just somebody who studied music and loved what he did,” Willis said.
Johnson’s songs are known for being extremely difficult and the challenge has brought out the best in musicians, going viral to the surprise of the guys.
“Each song poses its own challenge - the main goal is getting in Robert’s groove and making it our own. If a couple hours pass and you can’t get in the vein on the song, it’s like drawing blood, you got to look elsewhere. It’s been overwhelming to see what started off as a brotherly challenge turn into this,” they said.
Musicians from as far as Hong Kong have gotten in on the challenge, reviving Johnson’s music for a newer generation. The three said they hope that everyone who has participated, through playing or watching have enjoyed it and they hope that it helps people understand Johnson a little more.
“Robert was a young, 25-year-old Black man when he released his first single facing the world with the weight of the Jim Crow South on his shoulders. If we could take a snapshot of his life and place it into 2021, he would likely have Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, be a part of this challenge, and saying Black Lives Matter 100 years ago and 100 years in the future,” they said.
Thank you for keeping Robert’s legacy alive guys.
Photo Courtesy of Buzzfeed