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The Traditional Delta and Country Blues

Kansas Joe McCoy

Joe McCoy, b. May 11, 1905 in Jackson, MS, d. January 28, 1950 in Chicago, IL. Active 1920s - 1940s.

McCoy played music under various stage names but is best known as Kansas Joe McCoy. Born in Raymond, Mississippi, he was the older brother of the blues accompanist Papa Charlie McCoy. As a young man, McCoy was drawn to the music scene in Memphis, Tennessee, where he played guitar and sang during the 1920s. He teamed up his with future wife, Lizzie Douglas, a guitarist better known as Memphis Minnie, and their 1930 recording of the song "Bumble Bee" for Columbia Records was a hit. In 1930, the couple moved to Chicago, where they were an important part of the burgeoning blues scene there. After they were divorced, McCoy teamed up with his brother to form the Harlem Hamfats, a band that performed and recorded during the second half of the 1930s. In 1936, the Harlem Hamfats released their recording of the song "The Weed Smoker's Dream". McCoy later refined the tune, changed the lyrics and retitled the song "Why Don't You Do Right?" for Lil Green, who recorded it in 1941. It was covered a year later by both Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee, becoming Lee's first hit single. "Why Don't You Do Right?" remains a jazz standard and is McCoy's most enduring composition. At the outbreak of World War II Charlie McCoy entered the military, but a heart condition kept Joe McCoy from service. He formed a band, Big Joe and his Rhythm, which performed during most of the 1940s. The band featured Robert Nighthawk on harmonica and Charlie McCoy on mandolin. McCoy died of heart disease in Chicago in 1950, at the age of 44, only a few months before Charlie died. They are both buried in Restvale Cemetery, in Alsip, Illinois.

McCoy also performed and recorded under the names Bill Wither, Georgia Pine Boy, Hallelujah Joe, Big Joe McCoy and His Washboard Band, and the Mississippi Mudder. He also used the names Hamfoot Ham, Hillbilly Plowboy, and Mud Dauber Joe. Like many blues musicians of his era, Joe McCoy's grave site was originally unmarked. A tribute concert was held in October 2010 to celebrate the music of Joe and Charlie McCoy and to buy gravestones for each of them; they were installed on May 31, 2011.