Blues singer and guitarist Melvin (Lil' Son) Jackson was born near Tyler, Texas, on August 16, 1915. Jackson's father, Johnny Jackson, was a singer and musician who taught his young son to play the guitar; his mother, Ivora Allen, played gospel guitar. Lil' Son grew up near Barry, Texas, on his grandfather's farm and listened to records of Texas Alexander, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Lonnie Johnson. As a child he often sang and performed in the nearby Holiness church choir.
As a young adult during the Great Depression he quickly became dissatisfied with the harsh life of a sharecropper. After running away to Dallas he formed a spiritual group, the Blue Eagle Four. Throughout the 1930s the band played for local churches, parties, and family get-togethers. Jackson was drafted into the United States Army during World War II. He served with the Quartermaster Corps in England, France, and Germany. After the war he returned to work in Dallas, where he cut a cheap demo record that he sent to Gold Star Records owner Bill Quinn in Houston. Quinn signed Jackson to a record contract. Starting in 1948 Jackson cut several records for Gold Star and then for Imperial Records. A few of his recordings had some regional success in Texas and on the West Coast. His 1948 song "Freedom Train Blues" made the R&B Top 10.
In 1956 he was involved in a serious automobile accident. After recovering from his injuries he retired from recording and performing to work as a mechanic in a scrapyard. In 1960, however, he was "rediscovered" by California producer Chris Strachwitz, who was on a field trip through Texas and Louisiana looking for talent. Strachwitz persuaded him to come out of retirement and record some of his old songs. Jackson recorded the album Lil Son Jackson for Strachwitz's Arhoolie label in 1960. He followed that up with another album in 1963 on the Houston-based Ames label. That album included newer versions of several of his older cuts, including "Gambling Blues," "Cairo Blues," and "Roberta Blues." Jackson retired permanently in the mid-1960s. He died of cancer in Dallas on May 30, 1976, and was buried in Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery in that city. He was survived by his wife and three sons.
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Lawrence Cohn, Nothing But the Blues: The Music and the Musicians (New York: Abbeville, 1993). Sheldon Harris, Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1979). Colin Larkin, ed., Encyclopedia of Popular Music (London: Guinness, 1992; 3d ed., New York: Muze, 1998). Robert Santelli, The Big Book of Blues (New York: Penguin Books, 1993). Eileen Southern, Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1982).
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Jackson, Melvin [Lil' Son],”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 15, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
December 5, 2006
Most Recent Revision Date:
July 20, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: