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Edwards was born a son of a sharecropper in Mississippi in 1915, where the blues was a nightly occurrence. He recalled in a 2008 interview with NPR, “My father was a sharecropper, and at night when he’d come out of the field, he’d get in the cotton shack with a chair and play the blues—shuffle blues, low-down-dirty-shame blues—and drank whiskey and get drunk all night.” Edwards’ own experiences working in the Mississippi fields from age 9, traveling the South by foot, hitchhike, and rail, and unfair imprisonment laid the foundation for his brand of genuine blues.
A young Edwards was influenced by “Father of the Delta Blues” Charlie Patton. He picked up guitar at age 12 and hit the road by age 14, spending the first part of his life as a traveling bluesman in the South with contemporaries Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Joe Williams, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Big Walter Horton.
Edwards was first recorded in 1942 by Alan Lomax, an archivist who did field recordings in rural areas for the Library of Congress. He moved to Chicago in the early ’50s where he was part of the blues scene made famous by Muddy Waters. In the decades that followed, Edwards recorded a number of records, including a 1979 album with Sunnyland Slim, Kansas City Red, Floyd Jones, and Big Walter Horton entitled Old Friends and 1997’s The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing.
Edwards’ influence was recognized throughout this decade, culminating in a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. His 2008 album Roamin’ and Ramblin’ earned a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album, and he won Acoustic Artist of the Year at the Blues Music Awards in 2005 and 2007.