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Lightnin' Hopkins dies

January
30
1982

On this day in 1982, blues singer Sam (Lightnin') Hopkins died of cancer. Hopkins was born in Centerville, Texas, in 1912. At age eight he made his first instrument, a cigar-box guitar with chicken-wire strings. By ten he was playing music with his cousin, Alger (Texas) Alexander, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, who encouraged him to continue. By the mid-1920s Hopkins was playing the blues anywhere he could. He served time at the Houston County Prison Farm in the mid-1930s, and after his release he returned to the blues-club circuit. In 1950 he settled in Houston. Though he recorded prolifically between 1946 and 1954, it was not until 1959, when Hopkins began working with legendary producer Sam Chambers, that his music began to reach a mainstream white audience. Hopkins switched to an acoustic guitar and became a hit in the folk-blues revival of the 1960s. During the early 1960s he played at Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, and by the end of the decade was opening for rock bands. He was also the subject of a documentary, The Blues According to Lightnin' Hopkins, which won a prize at the Chicago Film Festival in 1970. Hopkins recorded a total of more than eighty-five albums and toured around the world. His songs were often autobiographical, making him a de facto spokesperson for the southern black community that had no voice in the white mainstream.

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