If your first name is Lemon and you were born blind, Black, and the son of Texas sharecroppers toward the end of the nineteenth century, then you have every right to sing the blues...and sing them Lemon Henry Jefferson did, becoming one of the most successful blues singers of the 1920s.
Jefferson (1893-1929) was the youngest child of seven (perhaps eight). He began playing guitar in his early teens, performing at picnics and parties. From there he became a street musician, often playing and singing for eight hours straight. In late 1925 or early 1926, Jefferson was taken to Chicago to record his music. His first record release was of two gospel songs under the name Deacon D. J. Bates. His first release under his own name was a hit, leading to several more releases from that first session did even better, reaching sales in six figures. Between 1926 and 1929 Jefferson had 43 records issued.
Jefferson died at age 36 of (according to the death certificate) "probable acute myocarditis." Rumors and legends swirled about his death -- a lover had poisoned his coffee, the heart attack came while lost in a snowstorm, he had been attacked by a dog in the middle of the night, he was killed while being robbed of a royalty check...Whatever the cause, his grave at Wortham Negro Cemetery in Texas was unmarked until 1967 and then a headstone was placed in the general area of where he is thought to be buried. In 2007 the cemetery's name was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery and a committee was established to see that his grave was kept clean.
Jefferson's style was too complex for many of his younger contemporaries to imitate, but over the years he became a huge influence on blues singers, earning him the title of King of the Texas Blues. His songs have been covered by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, John Hammond, B. B. King, Peter, Paul and Mary, Counting Crows, and Phish, among many others.
Note: many of these links show a picture of Blind Lemon Jefferson; it is the only known photograph of the artist.
"Black Snake Moan"
"Bad Luck Blues"
"Jack 'O Diamond Blues"
"Rabbit Foot Blues"
"One Dime Blues"
"That Growling Baby Blues"
"Easy Rider Blues"
"Lonesome House Blues"
"See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"
And finally, Geoff Muldaur sings of his efforts to keep blind Lemon's grave clean in "Got To Find Blind Lemon, Parts One and Two"