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Frank Stokes biography



Frank Stokes (January 1, 1888 – September 12, 1955) was an American blues musician, songster, and blackface minstrel, who is considered by many musicologists to be the father of the Memphis blues guitar style. Biography Stokes was born in Shelby County, Tennessee, in the largest Southern vicinity Whitehaven, located two miles north of the Mississippi line. Stokes learned to play guitar as a youth in Tutwiler, and, after 1895, in Hernando, Mississippi, which was home to such African American guitarists as Jim Jackson, Dan Sane, Elijah Avery (of Cannon's Jug Stompers), and Robert Wilkins. By the turn of the century, at the age of 12, Stokes worked as a blacksmith, traveling the 25 miles to Memphis on the weekends to sing and play guitar with Sane, with whom he developed a long-term musical partnership. Together, they busked on the streets and in Church's Park (now W. C. Handy Park) on Memphis' Beale Street. In the mid 1910s, Stokes joined forces with fellow Mississippian Garfield Akers as a blackface songster, comedian, and buck dancer in the Doc Watts Medicine Show, a tent show that toured the South. During this period of touring, Stokes developed a sense of show business professionalism that set him apart from many of the more rural, less polished blues musicians of that time and place. It is said that his performances on the southern minstrel and vaudeville circuit around this time greatly influenced the great archetypal country and western musician Jimmie Rodgers, who played the same circuit. Rodgers borrowed songs and song fragments from Stokes and was influenced stylistically as well. Around 1920, Stokes settled in Oakville, Tennessee, where he went back to work as a blacksmith. Their duet style influenced the young Memphis Minnie in her duets with husband Kansas Joe McCoy. The Sheiks next recorded at a session for Victor Records where Furry Lewis also recorded. At this session, in February 1928, the emphasis was on blues, rather than the older songs that were also part of Stokes' repertoire. Stokes recorded again for Victor that August, playing "I Got Mine", one of a body of pre-blues songs about gambling, stealing and living high. He also recorded the more modern "Nehi Mamma Blues", which puns on the Nehi soft drink and the "knee-high" skirts that were fashionable at the time. Sane rejoined Stokes for the second day of the August 1928 session, and they produced a two-part version of "Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do", a song well known in later versions by Bessie Smith and Jimmy Witherspoon, but whose origin lies somewhere in the pre-blues era. The Sheiks also continued to busk the streets, and play informally at parties. In 1929, Stokes and Sane recorded again for Paramount, resuming their 'Beale Street Sheiks' billing for a few cuts. In September Stokes was back on Victor to make what were to be his last recordings, this time without Sane, but with Will Batts on fiddle. Stokes died of a stroke in Memphis on September 12, 1955. He is buried there in Hollywood Cemetery. Songs recorded by Stokes "Ain't Goin' to Do Like I Used to Do" "Beale Town Bound" "Bedtime Blues" "Blues in "D"" "Chicken You Can Roost Behind the Moon" "Downtown Blues" "Fillin' in Blues" "Frank Stokes' Dream" "Half Cup of Tea" "How Long" "Hunting Blues" "I Got Mine" "I'm Going Away Blues" "It Won't Be Long Now" "It's A Good Thing" "Jazzin' the Blues" "Jumpin On The Hill" "Last Go Round" "Memphis Rounders Blues" "Mistreatin' Blues" "Mr. Crump Don't Like It" "Nehi Mama" "Old Sometime Blues" "Right Now Blues" "Rockin' on the Hill Blues" "South Memphis Blues" "Sweet to Mama" "Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do" "Take Me Back" "Wasn't That Doggin' Me" "What's The Matter Blues" "You Shall"