Gospel singer Arizona Juanita (Blind Arizona) Dranes, of mixed African-American and Mexican-American heritage, was born on April 4, 1894, in Greenville, Texas. Her mother was Cora Jones, and her father's surname was Dranes. She lost her sight in an influenza outbreak early in her childhood. She attended the Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youths (later Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School) in Austin from 1896 until 1910, when she graduated. There she received her first music lessons. Some years after graduation, perhaps about 1920, she helped Ford Washington McGee, a singing preacher, establish a Church of God in Christ in Oklahoma City . She later lived in the musically rich Deep Ellum district of Dallas, where she learned piano and developed her own distinct "sanctified" style of playing, known as "gospel beat." It combined the ragtime and barrelhouse traditions to produce a rolling blues sound. Dranes's piano playing was accompanied by her penetrating singing, which derived from the emotional shout song of traditional gospel music.
Eventually she became a regular pianist and singer for various traveling ministers of the Church of God in Christ, a national black Pentecostal church that has since developed into the largest of its kind. Dranes spent much of this early period with COGIC traveling through Texas and Oklahoma and aiding in the "planting" of new churches. In the mid-1920s she settled back in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and was soon spotted by OKeh Record Company scout Richard M. Jones. The company took Dranes to Chicago for recording sessions in 1926 and again held sessions in Dallas in 1928. During her contract with OKeh she recorded more than thirty tracks, including such gospel standouts as "I Shall Wear a Crown" and "My Soul Is a Witness for the Lord." Though she was a top gospel star for the OKeh label, correspondence between Dranes and the record executives indicate that she was often underpaid.
With the onset of the Great Depression, Blind Arizona Dranes fell into obscurity. She continued her performances in church services and may have lived in Memphis and possibly Oklahoma City in the 1930s. Her last known public concert was held in Cincinnati in 1947. In 1948 she moved to Los Angeles, where she lived until her death on July 27, 1963. Her death certificate listed her profession as a missionary and that she was buried at the Paradise Memorial Park in Santa Fe Springs, California. She was one of the most influential and innovative gospel pianists of the twentieth century.
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