Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI MUSICIANS: Eugene Powell


Eugene PowellEugene Powell, oto by Alex Kustner

Major Works

  • "44 Blues"
  • "Suitcases full of Troubles"
  • "Meet Me in the Bottoms"
  • "Street Walking Woman"

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Eugene Powell: A Biography
By Eric Tucker (SHS)

Eugene Powell was born on December 23, 1908, in Utica, Mississippi. Most of the sources agree that he began to play the guitar at the age of eight, but The Dead Musicians Directory says that he began to play at the age of seven. The beginning of the musical Mississippi heritage for Powell was also the beginning for Charley Patton. Powell grew up Eric Tucker, SHS researcherin the Chatmon family when they moved to Bolton, Mississippi. Powell's instrumental interplay began in Hollandale with Henderson Chatmon and his sons. Powell became a sometime member and recording member of the Mississippi Sheiks. Powell played many instruments including banjo, violin, harmonica, horn, and guitar, but he played lead guitar most of the time. His guitar was a Silvertone. He inserted an aluminum resonator into it like those found on the National guitar. He also fitted a seventh string, using the twelve string model as his inspiration. His playing style stood out as one of the greatest Blues soloist of his time. (Brian O'Connor, The Dead Musicians Directory).

Eugene's mother ran a junk house so he grew up around music. He sometimes recorded under the name, Sonny Boy Nelson. He took the name Sonny Boy Nelson after his stepfather. He pursued his love of music throughout the delta. Eugene often worked on his guitar and modified his own to seven and nine strings. In the 1940's, he was working for the John Deere Company in Greenville, Mississippi, and playing in the Lewis Nichols band. In the 60's, he saw a decline in the popularity of his music locally and gradually quit playing publicly. Sam Chatmon encouraged him to play again.

     Eugene PowllChatmon carried him to the Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. where he was recorded by Adelphi label in 1970 and 1972. Eugene's tunes like " Street Walking Woman,"  "44 Blues," "Suitcase Full of Trouble," along with "Meet Me in the Bottoms" are forever forged in blues history. Eugene suffered some health problems but endured and continued to play. He had many tribulations, and he ended up in Arnold Avenue Nursing Home. While there, his guitar was taken from his home. In September, 1998, thanks to M.A.C.E. and his friends, Eugene was presented with a new fender 12 string guitar by Worth Long and a lifetime achievement award by Butch Ruth.

On November, 4, 1998 at 5:41 a.m., Eugene Powell died at Delta Regional Medical Center in Greenville, Mississippi. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Metcalf, Mississippi. He is survived by his wife, " Mississippi Matilda," one son, five daughters, thirty-three grandchildren, sixty-one great grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren. (Euphus Ruth, Delta Musicians)

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Timeline

1908 - Born - December 23 in Utica, Mississippi
1915 - Began playing as a novelty act at picnics and suppers and for prisoners
1920 - Family moved to Hollandale, Mississippi
1934 - Played with local talents in Marion, Arkansas
1936 - Traveled with Chatmon Brothers to record for the Bluebird label.
1940 - Worked for John Deere Company in Greenville, Mississippi and played in the Lewis Nichols Band
1952- Separated for wife, Mississippi Matilda
1960 - Decline in his music and gradually quit playing publicly
1970 - Still a skilled guitarist
1972 - Recorded for the Adelphi label
1990 - Suffered health problems but endured and continued to play
1998 - Presented a new Fender 12 acoustic string guitar and a lifetime achievement award.
1998 - Died November 4 at 5:41 a.m.in Greenville, Mississippi

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Related Websites

Delta Musicians - Eugene Powell. tells about the life of Eugene Powell.

This site has info about Eugene Powell and David Honeyboy Edwards.

The Dead Musicians Directory has Eugene Powell's obituary in it.

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Last updated in 1999
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