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Blind Musicians from A to Z: D – Blind John Davis and Arizona Dranes

Blind John Davis

Blind John Davis was born in Mississippi in 1913, but moved to Chicago with his family at a young age.  He lost his sight shortly thereafter at age 9. He began to learn the piano as a teen, and later became a regular session musician for famous blues record producer Lester Melrose from 1937 to 1942 (Melrose was a producer for Bluebird, Decca, and Columbia records, among others). He recorded with Chicago blues artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson, Tampa Red, Memphis Minnie, Red Nelson and many others. Although he was primarily known for his blues playing, he was also well versed in jazz, ragtime, and Tin Pan Alley idioms.

Blind John Davis continued touring with blues musicians from the 1950s until his death in 1985.

A photo of Blind John Davis and Jimmy Walker in Chicago circa 1977.

Blind John Davis; Jimmy Walker, Chicago. Chicago Illinois, 1977. Chicago, Illinois. [Photograph], //www.loc.gov/item/afc1981004.b48708/.

Arizona Dranes

Arizona Dranes was born in Sherman, Texas in 1889 or 1891. She, unlike Blind John Davis, was born blind and attended the then-called Texas Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youth in Austin, where she learned to play piano. After graduating from school, she returned to Sherman, and later Wichita Falls, where she joined the Church of God in Christ. While there, she became a favorite church musician of Bishop Charles Mason. Significantly, Dranes incorporated ragtime and other popular styles into her gospel playing, and was one of the first musicians to introduce piano accompaniment to typically-acapella gospel songs at her church. She recorded for Okeh Records in the 1920s, becoming one of the first professional female gospel singers, and played at meetings throughout the Bible Belt. Her style of both piano and singing went on to influence other gospel musicians such as Roberta Martin, Clara Ward, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She later moved to Los Angeles, and passed away in 1963.

Why not try a new style of piano playing or hone your chops? Here are some books in the NLS Music collection to help you learn about—and learn to play—Chicago blues, boogie woogie, gospel, and blues piano.

Audio

Beginning Rhythm Piano by Dan Huckabee (DBM01732)

Blues and Boogie (Piano) by Bill Brown (DBM01746)

Ragtime Piano by David Cohen (DBM00420)

Singing in the African American Tradition by Ysaye M. Barnwell (DBM01528)

Son Seals: A Listener’s Guide to the Blues by Son Seals (DBM01230)

Wade in the Water, Vol. 1: African American Congregational Singing (DBM03769)

Wade in the Water, Vol. 4: African American Community Gospel (DBM03771)

Warren Bernhardt Teaches Jazz Piano by Warren Bernhardt (DBM03759)

Braille

Blues Piano by Allan Small (BRM28599 vol. 1 and vol. 2)

Boogie Woogie for Beginners by Frank Paparelli (BRM06514)

Chicago Blues by Julie Reece Deaver (BR 10630)

Gospel Piano/Organ Method by Ear, Book One: Beginner by Aaron Franklin (BRM35905)

How to Play Blues Piano by Junior Mance (BRM29279)

Large Print

The Boogie Book by John W. Schaum (LPM00275)

Rhythm and Blues, Book 2 by John W. Schaum (LPM00747)

Exercises in Rhythm: How to Play Bossa Nova, Blues, Boogie-Woogie, Samaba, etc. by John Brimhal (LPM00136)

 

 

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