Little Walter

Marion Walter Jacobs (May 1, 1930 – February 15, 1968), known as Little Walter, was an American blues musician, singer, and songwriter, whose revolutionary approach to the harmonica had a strong impact on succeeding generations, earning him comparisons to such seminal artists as Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix. His virtuosity and musical innovations fundamentally altered many listeners’ expectations of what was possible on blues harmonica. He was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, the first and, to date, only artist to be inducted specifically as a harmonica player.

Jacobs’ date of birth is usually given as May 1, 1930, in Marksville, Louisiana. He was born without a birth certificate and when he applied for a Social Security card in 1940, his birthdate was listed as May 1, 1923. Over the years he often gave different years, but May 1 was constant. In some other documents he filled out before reaching the age of majority he indicated birth years of 1925 and 1928, probably to appear to be of legal age to sign contracts for recordings and club work. After reaching the age of majority based on a birth year of 1930, he consistently gave his birth year as 1930. In the 1940 U.S. Census, his mother Beatrice reported his age at 14, making his birth year 1925. A few months after returning from his second European tour, Little Walter was involved in a fight while taking a break from a performance at a nightclub on the South Side of Chicago. He apparently sustained only minor injuries in this altercation, but they aggravated the damage he had suffered in previous violent encounters, and he died in his sleep at the apartment of a girlfriend, at 209 East 54th Street in Chicago early the following morning. The official cause of death stated on his death certificate was coronary thrombosis (a blood clot in the heart); evidence of external injuries was so insignificant that the police reported that his death was due to “unknown or natural causes”, and no external injuries were noted on the death certificate.

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