To many Charley Patton is recognized as the father of Delta Blues. He is considered to be the first to generalize and record songs in this style. Charley and his family were born near Bolton in southern Mississippi in 1891 and moved to Dockery Farms around 1900 in search of more opportunities and a better life.
The wilder and less established Northern Delta required less labor than the southerly half of the state, and as a consequence, black artists were treated more fairly than in the south.
At Dockery, Charley’s parents worked hard and had some success. His father and brother-in-law eventually rose to foreman positions on the farm.
Charley never did much work on the farm, but he lived the rest of his life on and around the farm, playing blues. He lived a sober drinker life, married multiple times, and had many adventures during his short life of 40 years. He was a famous artist and held many black and white events and parties.
Bessie Turner, Patton’s niece, explained how Charley would entertain his tenants and employees at Will Dockery picnics:
He (Dockery) liked when all of his people were nice, lively, and solemn. He would give free picnics and the like and play Uncle Charley. On July 4th, a platform was built for them to dance on. The dance started around one o’clock and ended the next morning. Start the fourth and finish the fifth and dance right there in that grove.
Uncle Charley has aired a lot here. … This is where the parties took place. They organize parties all year round. Mr Dockery had big barbecues, and Uncle Charley played. All of his niggers would be there. Homer Lewis and Willie Brown, Mr Henry Sloan, Mr Bonds.
They had a band, some blew a little old horn (kazoo) and Uncle Charley on guitar and the other on accordion, he and Willie Brown on guitar. Mr Homer Lewis, he played the accordion.
Between 1929 and 1934, Charley recorded 57 songs which sold pretty well and left a legacy that inspired musicians from Bob Dylan to Jack White of White Stripes and Led Zeppelin. His best-known songs include Pony Blues, A Spoonful Blues and High Water Everywhere, the latter being motivated by the great Mississippi flood of 1927.
He died of heart failure in 1934.