96-year-old traveled with Robert Johnson
Blues singer-guitarist David “Honeyboy” Edwards, who traveled and performed with the legendary Robert Johnson and recorded brilliantly in his own right across eight decades, died Monday, Aug. 29, in Chicago. He was 96.
Billed as “the last of the great Mississippi Delta bluesmen,” Edwards had remained active and appeared on some dates of a Johnson 100th birthday commemorative tour mounted earlier this year. But failing health forced him to announce his retirement in July.
Born in Shaw, Miss., he was known as “Honey” from childhood. His sharecropping parents were both guitarists. He began the life of an itinerant musician at age 17, when he hoboed with Big Joe Williams.
After several years playing in Memphis, Edwards met Robert Johnson in Greenwood, Miss., in 1937. He traveled with the blues titan until the night Johnson was fatally poisoned in August 1938 at a Greenwood juke joint.
Edwards was recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1942. He soon joined harmonica virtuoso Little Walter Jacobs, and the two traveled to Chicago together in 1945. He would bounce back to the South for several years, recording in Houston and (for Sam Phillips at Sun) in Memphis.
After cutting some sides for Chess Records that went unreleased for decades, Edwards settled in Chicago for good in 1956. Performing regularly in the Windy City’s clubs, he profited from the ’60s blues boom, recording for Milestone, Adelphi, Testament, Trix and Folkways; in 1969 he appeared on Fleetwood Mac’s super session “Blues Jam in Chicago.”
Managed by Earwig Records owner Michael Frank, Edwards recorded several highly praised albums for the Chicago blues label from the late ’80s on.
Edwards was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1996. His autobiography “The World Don’t Owe Me Nothin'” was published in 1997. He received a National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002.
He won a 2007 Grammy Award for “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen — Live in Dallas,” a collaboration with the late Pinetop Perkins, Robert Jr. Lockwood and Henry Townshend, as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
A kind of Zelig of the blues, Edwards was frequently interviewed about his association with Johnson and other legendary performers, and reminisced in several documentaries, including one on him, “Honeyboy” (2004). He also appeared in Jake Kasdan’s 2007 comedy “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”