Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI MUSICIANS: Sam Chatmon


Sam Chatmon Sam Chatmon1897 - 1983

Major Works

Songs

  • Sittin' on Top of the World
  • God Don't Like Ugly
  • Hollandale Blues
  • You Shall Be Free
  • I Have To Paint My Face
  • Go Back Old Devil
  • B & O Blues
  • Love Comes Falling Down
  • Brownskin Woman Blues
  • Sam's Rag Cross Cut Saw Blues
  • Crackin' Them Things

Albums

  • Sam Chatmon and His Barbecue Boys
  • Sam Chatmon's Advice
  • The Mississippi Sheik
  • The New Mississippi Sheiks
  • Hollandale Blues
  • Mississippi String Bands

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Sam Chatmon: A Biography
By James Crawford (SHS)Sam Chatmon

Sam was born in Bolton, Mississippi, on January 10, 1899 (some sources say 1897, but his grave and his comments on The New Mississippi Sheiks album say 1899) on John Gettis's plantation near Jackson.  Chatmon's family was well-known in Mississippi for their musical talents. His father Henderson Chatmon, a native of Terry, Mississippi, was an ex-slave who played the fiddle for square dances. He lived to be 105 years old and had nine sons and two daughters, all of whom seemed to have his musical ability. Chatmon's mother played the guitar.

Photo below: Drawing of Sam Chatmon by Frank Savage

Drawing of Sam Chatmon by Frank SavageChatmon became interested in the guitar at the age of six, taking it down off the wall to play while his family worked in the fields and replacing it before they came home. His famous older brothers (Sam was the ninth child) Lonnie Chatmon and Bo (Armentor Chatmon) Carter performed with Walter Vinson as the Mississippi Sheiks. Sam became a member of the family's string band at a young age. The family played, according to Robert Palmer, ballads, ragtime, spirituals, popular Tin Pan Alley songs and country dance music. At the end of World War I, the Chatmon brothers formed a string band, perferring to play blues and waltzes on a regular basis for white audiences in the 1920's because it paid better. Sam also played with the Mississippi Sheiks occasionally.

In 1928 the Chatmons moved to the Delta to a town named Hollandale. The band disbanded in 1935, but in 1936 Sam and Lonnie Chatmon recorded twelve duets for Bluebird.

After the death of his brothers, Sam Chatmon became part of the New Mississippi Sheiks and played with Walter Vinson, Carl Martin, and Ted Bogan. Sam did not record during the 1940's. Instead he worked on area plantations around Hollandale. He was rediscovered in 1960 by Ken Swerilas, who talked Sam into performing again. Sam Chatmon became known primarily then as a folk blues artist. He recorded on the Arhoolie label and later with others.

Chatmon's wife was Elma Lue Chatmon. Their son later became known as Singing' Sam and was a bass guitarist who played with Elmore James.

SHS Researcher, James CrawfordIn addition to the guitar, Sam Chatmon played the banjo, bass, mandolin, and harmonica.  He toured extensively during the 60's and 70's, and played many of the largest and best-known folk festivals that included the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. in 1972; the Mariposa Fest in Toronto in 1974; and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1976.

Of note, Sam played with Charley Patton, whom he sometimes called his half brother. Others have stated that the two were cousins, but Anna Patton, Charley's mother, and surviving Patton relatives have disputed this relationship. It is known that Charley Patton's father was a "man of God" who believed music to be evil, so Charley often slipped out of his own house to play with the Chatmon family. 

Sam Chatmon was one of the few bluesman to perform with Fingers Taylor on the Blues Caravan in the 1970's and went on tour with Jimmy Buffet.  Sam Chatmon continued to perform until his death on February 2, 1983. He is buried in Hollandale, Mississippi.

UPDATED: February 2008

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Timeline

1899- --Born in Bolton, Mississippi
1920's- Played for white audiences with his brothers
1928--- Moved to Hollandale, Mississippi,  to work on plantations
1935 ---Band disbanded

1936---Sam and brother Lonnie recorded twelve duets for Bluebird

1940's--Sam did not record but worked on area plantations aroung Hollandale

1960- -Rediscovered as a folk-blues artist, he also recorded for the Arhoolie Label

1964---Brother Bo Carter died
1970- -Performed with Fingers Taylor on the Blues Caravan
1972- -Played many of his largest and best-known folk festivals.
1974- -Played the Mariposa Fest in Toronto
1976-- Played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
1983- -Died on February 2 in Hollandale, Mississippi

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Related Websites

This site presents the discography for Sam Chatmon's music.

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Bibliography

Larkin,Colin, The Guinness Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol.2. p.775.New York: Stockton Press, 1995.

"Sam Chatmon's Biography".n.pg.  Available http://www.blueflame.com/default.htm 1997,1998.

"Sam Chatmon's Greatest Hits" n.pg.  Available sunstudio.com/tour/blues/blues artists 1997, 1998.

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1999, Updated Feb. 2008, 2014
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