James “Guitar Slim” Stephens (d.1989) was born on March 10, 1915, near Spartanburg, South Carolina. He began playing pump organ when he was only five years old, singing spirituals he learned from his parents and reels he heard from his older brother pick on the banjo. Slim was so small that his feet would not even reach the organ pedals, so he had one of his brothers do the pumping while he practiced the keys. Within a few years, Slim was playing piano. When he was thirteen, he began picking guitar, playing songs he heard at local “fling-dings,” house parties, and churches. A few years later he joined the John Henry Davis Medicine Show, playing music to draw crowds to hear the show master’s pitch; this took him throughout the southeastern Piedmont. It seems as if traveling was in Slim’s blood from that point on; for in the next twenty or so years, he moved throughout the eastern United States living in such cities as Richmond, Durham, Louisville, Nashville, and Waterbury, Connecticut. In 1953 he arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he lived for the remainder of his life playing both guitar and piano--singing the blues at house parties and spirituals at church. His first LP, “Greensboro Rounder,” was issued in 1979 by the British Flyright label.
Hinson, Glenn. 1980. Guitar Slim. The 42nd Annual National Folk Festival program book, Wolf Trap Farm Park, July 11-13: 15.
Duffy, Tim. 2002. Music Makers:Portraits and Songs From the Roots of America. Athens, GA, Hill Street Press: 150-151.
Full Name: James "Guitar Slim" Stephens
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