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John Lee Curtis “Sonny Boy” Williamson (1914 – 1948) was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter. He is often regarded as the pioneer of the blues harp as a solo instrument and played on hundreds of blues recordings for many pre-World War II blues artists.
Williamson’s harmonica style was a great influence on post-War performers, and he was a mentor to many of the up and coming blues musicians who moved to Chicago, including Muddy Waters. In an attempt to capitalize on Williamson’s fame, Aleck “Rice” Miller began recording and performing as “Sonny Boy Williamson” in the early 1940s, and later, to distinguish the two, John Lee has come to be known as Sonny Boy Williamson I or “the original Sonny Boy”.
On June 1, 1948, Williamson was killed in a robbery on Chicago’s South Side, as he walked home from a performance at The Plantation Club. Williamson’s final words are reported to have been “Lord have mercy”.