Details surrounding the life and death of Blind Blake Discovered.
You can go ahead and write in the book of blues history: Alex van der Tuuk, Bob Eagle, Rob Ford, Eric LeBlanc, and Angie Mack have revealed a massive amount of information concerning Blind Blake here lately. In fact, one article already published in Blues & Rhythm issue #263 called, “IN SEARCH OF BLIND BLAKE Arthur Blake’s death certificate unearthed”. Let’s give credit where credit is due – they did it!!!!
So what exactly did they find? Well, tons of stuff. For one, his real name is Arthur Blake. He was born in 1896 in Newport News, VA. He died in 1934 in Milwaukee, WI. His cause of death was Pulmonary Tuberculosis. His last known address was 1844 B – N. 10th Street Milwaukee. He was married – or at least living as husband and wife – with Beatrice McGee Blake. He was listed in the 1933 directory as living with Beatrice at 621 W. Brown Street in Milwaukee, and was also listed as an artist/musician.
For those of you who don’t know, prior to this discovery blues researchers did not know know Blake’s real name, his date or location of birth, his date or location of death, or much else for that matter. In fact, the popular theory was he died by being hit by a streetcar, most likely in Georgia. Some researchers also had his birth being in Jacksonville or Georgia, which was also untrue. The fact is, what was once is mystery is now solved – thanks to the diligence of this amazing team of researchers.
Blake’s grave was also found by the team. It was discovered in Glen Oaks Cemetery in Glendale, WI. Angie Mack, one of the researchers, visited the grave many times. It sits in the back of the cemetery, without a headstone, at 72 Range 115. Caroline Harvey, who has a tombstone, is buried to his left. Another great find. For a great, detailed blog about the whole experience, visit Angie Mack’s site and read about it at http://www.sociofocus.com/2011/09/22/finding-arthur-blind-blakes-grave/.
However, some questions remain. Though a follow up article is planned, we here at TDBlues, in some discussion of other researchers, have some theories on all of this.
One of the biggest mysteries still to be solved is why did no other artist hear about his death? I mean, let’s look at the facts here. Blake was listed as late as 1933 as a musician in the city directory. This was in Milwaukee, WI – which is just 89 miles from Chicago! Keeping in mind that Blake’s death occurred in 1934, this was after the Great Migration – so plenty of blues artists were in Chicago, taking the scene by storm. How did none of them ever hear of his death? Or of him living in Milwaukee? Did Blake ever travel to Chicago to gig? It seems amazing that other blues artists, who respected Blake’s abilities, had no idea he was living and performing just miles away.
What about the rumor that Gary Davis provided, claiming that Blind Blake was killed by a streetcar? Where did that rumor come from? Turns out, according to the research of Gayle Dean Wardlow, that there might be an explanation for that. Around the same time Blake was rumored to have died, a musician – a blind one at that – had been struck and killed by a subway car in New York. Being that a lot of artists traveled to New York, and Blake was rumored to have gone north, it is possible that this artist was mistaken for Blake. The artist that actually died was in fact white, but this is still a possibility. Perhaps through word of mouth the story got convoluted enough that the death was mistaken for Blake, and the subway car was turned into a streetcar over time.
Another question is how did he end up in Milwaukee with Beatrice? This too has several possibilities, but one is obviously glaring. Paramount Records, which is in Grafton Wisconsin (or was at the time), is where Blind Blake recorded for. It was common of the times for record companies to put musicians that traveled there to record in boarding houses around the area. It is more than likely that Blake met Beatrice one of those trips, and either stayed there, or traveled back there, to live with her. Paramount is the common denominator between Blake and Wisconsin. Could there be other factors? Sure. but this seems a likely possibility.
The truth is, now that resarchers have this amazing information to go off of, it is possible even more facts will surface surrounding the life and death of Blind Blake.
Our hats go off to the researchers who brought the public this information.