Jacobs, Marion Walter

“Little Walter” (Jacobs, Marion Walter)

(1931–68) musician; born in Marksville, La. He is widely regarded as the most influential harmonica player in blues history, and as a major innovator of 1950s Chicago blues. As a teenage runaway, he began playing on the streets of New Orleans and made his first appearance on the King Biscuit Time radio program in Helena, Arkansas in 1944. He settled in Chicago in 1946, where he played with leading musicians Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Slim. He made his first recordings in 1947, and for the next five years he was a sideman with Muddy Waters' pioneering electric blues band. In 1952, he formed his own group, the Jukes, and began a 14-year association with Chess Records, for which he recorded numerous blues hits. He toured with rhythm-and-blues package shows throughout the 1950s, and worked with the annual American Folk Blues Festival tours of England and Europe between 1962–67. He died at age 37 from head injuries sustained in a street fight, though alcoholism had severely hampered his career for at least ten years before his death.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.