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Pioneer Female Blues artist Jessie Mae Hemphill Dies at 71

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July 24, 2006                             Image Preview


 The Associated Press


MEMPHIS — Jessie Mae Hemphill, whose award-winning blues career lasted decades and was heavily influenced by her upbringing in rural Mississippi, has died, a spokeswoman for the singer's foundation said. She was 71.

Olga Wilhelmine Mathus, the founder and president of the Jessie Mae Hemphill Foundation, said the artist died Saturday from complications of an infection that may have resulted from an ulcer. Hemphill died in a Memphis hospital after checking in a week ago.

"She did not want to be operated on," Mathus said. "I think she was ready to go."

Hemphill embraced music at an early age and came from a family of musicians in northern Mississippi. Her great-grandfather and her grandfather, Sid Hemphill, were fiddle players who passed on their love of music. Her aunt, Rosa Lee, was also a performer who recorded several albums.

Jessie Mae Hemphill began playing guitar at age 7 or 8, and later moved on to other instruments.

She lived in Memphis for 20 years, and played the clubs on the city's famous Beale Street before finding an international audience.

"She brought a lot to the blues culture," Mathus said. "She was a pioneer for women in blues and women in general. Her music was very inspiring to a lot of people."

In 1993, Hemphill suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side, leaving her unable to play guitar. She retired from touring and returned to Senatobia, where she lived with her dog, Sweet Pea.

She recorded one final album a decade later titled Dare You to Do It Again.

Mathus said funeral arrangements were incomplete.

Jessie Mae Hemphill won the W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Female Blues Artist in 1987 and 1988.  In 1991, Hemphill won the Handy Award for Best Acoustic Album.
 
 



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