Blind from birth and the youngest of seven children, Jefferson became an itinerant entertainer in his teens, learning a repertoire of work songs, blues standards and spirituals. He worked in the streets and in brothels, saloons, and parties in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Virginia and in the 1920s he went to record in Chicago.
Jeffersons high voice, shouting style, and complex guitar technique, which used melodic lead lines, bent notes, and imitative effects became staples of the blues through such disciples as Lead Belly, who worked with Jefferson for a time, and through his recordings for the Paramount label (192629). Jefferson also recorded spiritual songs, using the pseudonym Deacon L.J. Bates.
The circumstances of Jeffersons death are uncertain, though there were reports that he suffered a heart attack on the street and died of exposure during a snowstorm. He was buried in the Wortham Texas Negro Cemetery, and his grave went unmarked until October 15, 1967, when blues devotees placed a metal marker on the plot and in 1997, it was replaced by a granite headstone. Since the late 1950s, numerous recordings by Jefferson have been reissued, generating new interest in his music and extending his influence. He would be one of the first bluesman inaugurated in the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.
- "I Want to Be Like Jesus in My Heart"
- "All I Want Is That Pure Religion"
- "He Rose from the Dead"
- "Where Shall I Be"
- "Got the Blues"
- "Long Lonesome Blues"
- "Mosquito Blues"
- "Booster Blues"
- "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"
- "Matchbox Blues"
- "Jack O'Diamonds"
- "Black Snake Moan"
- "Wartime Blues"
- "Booger Rooger Blues"
Appearances in popular culture
- Black Snake Moan: Named after one of his songs, Black Snake Moan
- Leadbelly: He is portrayed by Art Evans.