JESSIE MAE HEMPHILL
Jessie Mae Hemphill played the primitive Blues of the hill country of North Mississippi, east of the Delta. Typical of the district, her music has the evocative one-chord boogie beat that is so insistent it seems to penetrate the listener like a virus, resulting in foot-tapping, body swaying and eventually full-on juke dancing. Juke-joints are precisely where this music comes from and Jessie’s near-neighbours RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough would recognise and approve every note. Like those men, Jessie did not have a long recording career or a bag-full of hits, but her contribution to the genre was of a very high quality.
‘Shame on You!’ says Jessie, and you know she means it!
Jessie’s hypnotic boogies attracted a lot of attention, and she toured The States, Canada and many European countries, making several recordings along the way, picking up Handy Blues Awards for best female artist in 1987 and ’88. In 1990, Jessie recorded her ‘Feelin’ Good’ album for High Water Records, which also won a ‘Handy’, and her late-blooming career looked bright. Sadly, she suffered a stroke in 1993 which paralysed her left side and prevented her from playing guitar, forcing her retirement. She began performing again with her band, playing tambourine and in fine voice, and she recorded a double album of Gospel classics in 2004. Jessie’s health problems continued, and she passed away in Memphis in 2006.