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American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: D (Part 2 – Davis, “Blind” John and Dranes, Arizona)

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.


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)


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)



Tactile Staff Notation

Today’s post is about the braille books in our collection that explain to blind readers how staff notation (print music) works. In case you are wondering why blind musicians need to know staff notation, two important reasons come to mind. First, music teachers who are visually impaired must be able to help their sighted students […]

Aiming Beyond Graduation: Creating Inclusive College Music Courses for Blind and Visually Impaired Students, Part 2

This blog is a continuation of an interview with Chi Kim, instructor and professor at the assistive music technology (AMT) lab for blind and visually impaired students at Berklee College of Music.

Aiming Beyond Graduation: Creating Inclusive College Music Courses for Blind and Visually Impaired Students, Part 1

Part 1 The end goal for most college music students is to develop and cultivate skills to prepare for a successful musical career after graduation. For some music students with visual impairment (V.I.), just getting through the college degree program can be challenging.  Here are some common reasons: inability to learn a large amount of […]

Discussing Braille Music with Lifetime NLS Patron Linn Sorge, Part 1

Linn Sorge has been a NLS patron since she was in kindergarten some 60 years ago. I met Linn when I took “Braille Music Basics,” an excellent introductory online course to reading braille music offered through Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  In addition to being a teacher at Hadley, Linn is an […]

Back to School: Method Books Edition (Part 2)

Last week, we detailed method books in the collection for wind instruments. This week, we are highlighting method books in our collection for string instruments and percussion, with some jazz method books thrown in for good measure! If there is anything here that could be useful to you or your student, please don’t hesitate to […]

Back to School: Method Books Edition (Part 1)

Although for most of us it still feels like the middle of summer outside, it is time for many folks to begin thinking about back-to-school, and the new books and supplies for the year. That, of course, includes books for music classes, band, and orchestra. In the past, we’ve discussed books for college students, and […]

Thinking About Learning Braille Music? Part II

Continued from last week While Bettye Krolick’s How to Read Braille Music: An Introduction is suitable for students who already know the basics of music and only need to learn how to decipher braille music symbols, Richard Taesch’s An Introduction to Music for the Blind Student is suitable for students who are just starting their […]

Thinking About Learning Braille Music? Part I

I always get excited when a patron requests a book on reading braille music because it means one more patron might be able to take advantage of our wonderful braille music collection. In my opinion, braille music readers have an edge over non-readers since they are able to explore and interpret the score themselves. In […]

An Interview with Stephanie Pieck, Part 2

This is the second part of my interview with Stephanie Pieck. Q) Explaining your teaching philosophy, you wrote, “I faced many instances in which the general opinion was that a blind person couldn’t learn. But I also had many very dedicated teachers who knew this wasn’t true; all that was needed was a different way to […]