Frank Stokes

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Frank Stokes (January 1, 1888 – September 12, 1955) was an American blues

musician, songster, and blackface minstrel, who is considered by many

musicologists to be the father of the Memphis blues guitar style.




Stokes was born in Shelby County, Tennessee, in the largest southern vicinity

Whitehaven, located two miles north of the Mississippi line. He was raised by

his stepfather in Tutwiler,Mississippi, after the death of his parents. Stokes

learned to play guitar as a youth in Tutwiler, and, after 1895, in Hernando,

Mississippi, which was home to such African American guitarists as Jim

Jackson, Dan Sane, Elijah Avery (of Cannon's Jug Stompers), and Robert

Wilkins .By the turn of the century, at the age of 12, Stokes worked as a

blacksmith, traveling the 25 miles to Memphis on the weekends to sing and

play guitar with Sane, with whom he developed a long-term musical

partnership. Together, they busked on the streets and in Church's Park (now

W. C. Handy Park) on Memphis' Beale Street.


In the mid 1910s, Stokes joined forces with fellow Mississippian Garfield

Akers as a blackface songster, comedian, and buck dancer in the Doc Watts

Medicine Show, a tent show that toured the South. During this period of

touring, Stokes developed a sense of show business professionalism that set

him apart from many of the more rural, less polished blues musicians of that

time and place. It is said that his performances on the southern minstrel and

vaudeville circuit around this time influenced Jimmie Rodgers, who played the

same circuit. Rodgers borrowed songs and song fragments from Stokes and was influenced stylistically as well.


Around 1920, Stokes settled in Oakville, Tennessee, where he went back to work as a blacksmith.  Stokes teamed up again with Sane and went to

work playing dances, picnics, fish fries, saloons, and parties in his free time. Stokes and Sane joined Jack Kelly's Jug Busters to play white country

clubs, parties and dances, and to play Beale Street together as the Beale Street Sheiks, first recording under that name for Paramount Records in

August 1927.[2] All told, Stokes was to cut 38 sides for Paramount and Victor Records. "The fluid guitar interplay between Stokes and Sane,

combined with a propulsive beat, witty lyrics, and Stokes's stentorian voice, make their recordings irresistible."[6] Their duet style influenced the

young Memphis Minnie in her duets with husband Kansas Joe McCoy.


The Sheiks next recorded at a session for Victor Records where Furry Lewis also recorded. At this session, in February 1928, the emphasis was on

blues, rather than the older songs that were also part of Stokes' repertoire. Stokes recorded again for Victor that August, playing "I Got Mine", one

of a body of pre-blues songs about gambling, stealing and living high. He also recorded the more modern "Nehi Mamma Blues", which puns on the

Nehi soft drink and the "knee-high" skirts that were fashionable at the time. Sane rejoined Stokes for the second day of the August 1928 session,

and they produced a two-part version of "Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do", a song well known in later versions by Bessie Smith and Jimmy

Witherspoon, but whose origin lies somewhere in the pre-blues era. The Sheiks also continued to busk the streets, and play informally at parties.


In 1929, Stokes and Sane recorded again for Paramount, resuming their 'Beale Street Sheiks' billing for a few cuts. In September, Stokes was back

on Victor to make what were to be his last recordings, this time without Sane, but with Will Batts on fiddle.  Stokes and Batts were a team as

evidenced by these records, which are both traditional and wildly original, but their style had fallen out of favor with the blues record buying public.

Stokes was still a popular live performer, however, appearing in medicine shows, the Ringling Brothers Circus, and other tent shows and similar

venues during the 1930s and 1940s. During the 1940s, Stokes moved to Clarksdale, and occasionally worked with Bukka White in local juke joints.


Stokes died of a stroke in Memphis on September 12, 1955. He is buried there in Hollywood Cemetery.








The Forum post is edited by bninna Aug 12 '15




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