Morning Music: Bertha Lee Pate

Bertha Lee PateYesterday, I highlighted the father of Mississippi delta blues, Charlie Patton. In 1930, just four years before his death from a heart problem, he met and married Bertha Lee Pate. In their brief time together, she recorded a dozen songs with him. She lived into the 1970s, but after Patton’s death, she never again recorded, which is a damned shame, because she was a great blues singer.

In 1965, Sam Charters tracked her down in Chicago where she was working in a used clothing store. She was just living her life and part of that was living and loving a blues legend — and being one herself. In the interview, she told the touching story of Charlie Patton’s death:

Charley was playing for a white dance — you have to work so much harder at a white dance in the South, they don’t want to stop dancing. When he come home he was so hoarse he couldn’t talk and he couldn’t get his breath. He had to get up out of bed at night and open the windows so he could get some air. He lived three weeks after that but he was too weak to do anything. He was laying across my lap when he died.

One of the songs that she did with Patton, which she also wrote, was “Mind Reader Blues.” I love the sliding of her voice. Patton just finger picks the guitar; there is no need for any slide; she provides it all.

2 thoughts on “Morning Music: Bertha Lee Pate

  1. Her quitting recording is quite understandable. It’s not like there was any money in it; it was a labor of love. Hard to go on making art after a loss like that.

    • Yeah, the performers made money by playing gigs. It was a hard life. She married again, but the man had died a couple of years before the interview in 1965.

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