Coot Grant

Leola B. Pettigrew, b. June 17, 1893, d. unknown, classic female blues, country blues, and vaudeville singer and songwriter. On her own and with her husband and musical partner, Wesley "Kid" Wilson, she was popular with African-American audiences from the 1910s to the early 1930s.

Grant was born Leola B. Pettigrew in Birmingham, Alabama, one of fifteen children in her family. The first part of her stage name was derived from her childhood nickname, Cutie. She began working in vaudeville in 1900 in Atlanta, Georgia, and the following year toured South Africa and Europe with Mayme Remington's Pickaninnies. She was sometimes billed as Patsy Hunter. In 1913, she married the singer Isiah I. Grant, and they worked on stage together before his death in 1920. She married Wesley Wilson the same year. He used several stage names, later being billed as Catjuice Charlie (in a brief duo with Pigmeat Pete), Kid Wilson, Jenkins, Socks, and Sox Wilson. He played the piano and organ, while she played the guitar, sang and danced. The duo's billing varied. They performed as Grant and Wilson, Kid and Coot, and Hunter and Jenkins, as they went on to appear and later record with Fletcher Henderson, Mezz Mezzrow, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong. They performed separately and together in vaudeville, musical comedies, revues and traveling shows. They also appeared in the 1933 film The Emperor Jones, with Paul Robeson. The couple wrote more than 400 songs over their working lifetime, including "Gimme a Pigfoot (and a Bottle of Beer)" (1933) and "Take Me for a Buggy Ride", both of which were recorded and made famous by Bessie Smith, and "Find Me at the Greasy Spoon" and "Prince of Wails" for Fletcher Henderson. Their own renditions included the diverse "Come on Coot, Do That Thing" (1925), "Dem Socks Dat My Pappy Wore," and "Throat Cutting Blues" (which remains unreleased). In 1926, Grant and Blind Blake and recorded a selection of country blues songs. They were Blake's first recordings. Grant and Wilson's act, once seen as a rival to Butterbeans and Susie, began to lose favor with the public by the mid-1930s, but they recorded more songs in 1938. Their only child, Bobby Wilson, was born in 1941. By 1946, Mezz Mezzrow had founded his King Jazz record label and engaged Grant and Wilson as songwriters. In that year, the association led to their final recording session, backed by a quintet including Bechet and Mezzrow. In December 1948, Record Changer magazine reported that Grant and Wilson had opened a new show in Newark, New Jersey, "an old time revue called 'Holiday in Blues.'" Wilson retired in ill health shortly thereafter, but Grant continued performing into the 1950s. In a May 1951 Record Changer magazine poll, she was listed in a roster of notable female vocalists, but she received fewer than five votes in the poll; the top spot went to Bessie Smith, who received 381 votes. In January 1953, one commentator noted that Grant and Wilson had moved from New York to Los Angeles and were in financial hardship. Grant's popularity waned to such an extent that no official information about her death has been found. Her entire recorded work, with and without Wilson, was issued in three volumes by Document Records in 1988.

by Eugene Chadbourne
"Come on Coot Do That Thing" was the name of the song, and she did. Coot Grant was the main stage name of Leola B. Pettigrew, a classic blues singer and guitarist from Alabama whose legal name became Leola Wilson following her marriage to performing partner Wesley Wilson. The pair, who ironically were born in the same year, met and began performing together in 1905 and were wed seven years later. Pettigrew was already known as Coot Grant by this time, the name representing some kind of wordplay on the nickname "Cutie." She had been involved in show business since she was a child, beginning as a dancer in vaudeville. Prior to the beginning of the first World War she had already toured both Europe and South Africa, sometimes appearing under the name of Patsy Hunter. Her husband, who played both piano and organ, also performed under a variety of bizarre stage names including Catjuice Charlie, in a gross-out duo with Pigmeat Pete, as well as Kid Wilson, Jenkins, Socks, and Sox Wilson.

The husband and wife, billed as Grant & Wilson, Kid & Coot, and Hunter & Jenkins, appeared and recorded with top jazz artists such as Fletcher Henderson, Mezz Mezzrow, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong. They performed in musical comedies, vaudeville, traveling shows, and revues, and in 1933 appeared in the film Emperor Jones with the famous singer Paul Robeson. Their songwriting was certainly as important as these performing activities. The couple published some 400 songs, most famous of which is "Gimme a Pigfoot," one of classic blues singer Bessie Smith's grandest hits. There seemed to be no subject this songwriting pair wouldn't touch, as evidenced by titles such as "Dem Socks Dat My Pappy Wore" and the unfortunately unreleased "Throat Cutting Blues."

On her own, Grant also recorded country blues including some collaborations with guitarist Blind Blake in 1926. The careers of both she and her husband began to falter in the mid-'30s, with the pair returning to the studios only briefly in 1938, and again a decade later when Mezzrow hired them to perform and write material for his new King Jazz label. Grant kept performing following her husband's retirement in 1948, but eventually dropped so far out of sight that to date, no details have been discovered about her death. All of the material she performed, solo and in duo with Wesley Wilson, has been reissued on archive labels such as Document.