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My experience is that most Delta blues men did not ask to know personal information about each other. Robert Lockwood Jr. did not know about Sonny Boy’s large family, that he was born in Glendora, or that he could play guitar (I have two photos of him with a guitar and two private recordings of him playing). I guess Robert Lockwood Jr. would have been surprised that he may not have been the only man whom Robert Johnson had ever taught to play guitar. Sonny Boy’s guitar playing is very much like Robert Johnson’s, and he played some of Johnson’s songs. It was Sonny Boy who recorded the only unrecorded song attributed to Robert Johnson, “Mr. Down Child.”

William Donoghue
Healdsburg , CA

The 1920 census lists Alex (pronounced “Aleck” in the Delta) Miller as seven years old, making December 5, 1912, his probable birth date. The 1900 census reports that Millie Ford and Jim Miller, a blacksmith, were married in 1895; so, Alex Miller was not illegitimate. He had a brother named Willie who was born in 1898 (the 1910 census reports Willie as being twelve, but he is not in the 1900 census) and had moved away. When Alex Miller, whom his sisters nicknamed “Rice,” allegedly returned from time in Parchman Farm or Tallahatchie County Farm, he apparently assumed the identity of his brother Willie. In 1931, when Robert Johnson brought him home to Helena, he introduced himself to Robert Lockwood Jr. as “W. M.” He signed his contract with Trumpet Records as Willie “Sonny Boy” Williamson and his wedding certificate as “Willie Williams.” His reasons for assuming so many different names are unclear.

It’s important that his story be told accurately, as the 100th anniversary of his birth will be in 2012 and that could result in the Chicago Blues Festival being in his honor. I have a wealth of Sonny Boy artifacts, unpublished pictures, over 300 interviews, and the ability to deliver a series of lectures and slide shows on Sonny Boy’s story and Delta blues history.

My sources are original oral history research with his sisters and other family members, his widow, his friends, and census records.

I’m the host of Sonny Boy’s Lonesome Cabin,

William Donoghue
Healdsburg, CA