Sonny Terry Played Blues Harp With A Surprising Energy And A Burst Of Joyous Life
Sonny Terry is mainly remembered for his partnership with Brownie McGhee, but his collaborations ran from Blind Boy Fuller to Paul Simon and a diverse group of other very well-known artists. He even appeared in the original Broadway cast of Finian's Rainbow in 1947 and in the movie The Color Purple in 1985.
During his career Sonny Terry worked with a wide variety of artists that included Fuller, Simon, Brownie McGhee, Woody Guthrie, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Winter and many others. He also did his work on Broadway and in films. There was even an Alka-Seltzer commercial.
Terry's life affirming whooping style of singing, imitation of fox hunts and trains, plus his hollers coupled with a truly energetic Blues harp playing has made him one of the most imitated artists in Blues history and especially in the Piedmont style.
Born Saunders Terrell in Greensboro, Georgia, in 1911, he learned Blues harp from his farmer and musician father early on. A couple of childhood accidents left him blind by age 16. Unable to do farm work, Sonny resorted to playing on street corners.
Playing in the Raleigh and Durham area brought Sonny into contact with Blind Boy Fuller, who he worked with before Fuller's death in 1941. Afterward Terry began teaming with Brownie McGhee, the Piedmont guitarist he had met in the late 1930s.
In the early 1940s Terry and McGhee moved to New York City and became friends with the folk crowd that included Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. In the late 1940s and early 1950s they helped ignite a Folk craze that grew to where even Broadway welcomed Folk and Blues.
During that same time, and for years after, the pair toured the world becoming ambassadors to both American Folk and Blues. Sonny Terry passed away in 1986, the same year he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, an honor he truly deserved.