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The Traditional Delta and Country Blues

Frank Stokes

b. January 1, 1888 in Whitehaven, TN, d. September 12, 1955 in Memphis, TN, blues musician, songster, and blackface minstrel, who is considered by many musicologists to be the father of the Memphis blues guitar style.

Stokes was raised in Mississippi, taking up the guitar early in life. He worked on medicine shows, and in the streets of Memphis in the bands of Will Batts and Jack Kelly. By 1927, when Stokes and his fellow guitarist Dan Sane made their first records as the Beale Street Sheiks, they were one of the tightest guitar duos in blues, heavily influenced by ragtime, and also performing medicine show and minstrel songs. Stokes was the vocalist, and played second guitar. They recorded together until 1929. However, Stokes also recorded solo, and with Will Batts on fiddle. Stokes’ recorded personality is that of the promiscuous rounder, by turns macho or pleading for another chance. His singing is forthright, with impressive breath control. Stokes and Sane worked together until illness forced Stokes to retire completely from music in 1952. Stokes died of a stroke in Memphis on September 12, 1955. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery, in Memphis.


Frank Stokes Biography by Barry Lee Pearson

Frank Stokes and partner Dan Sane recorded as the Beale Street Sheiks, a Memphis answer to the musical Chatmon family string band, the Mississippi Sheiks. According to local tradition, Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. As a street artist, he needed a broad repertoire of songs and patter palatable to both blacks and whites. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes was remembered as a consummate entertainer who drew on songs from the 19th and 20th centuries with equal facility. Solo or with Sane and sometimes fiddler Will Batts, Stokes recorded 38 sides for Paramount and Victor. These treasures include blues as well as older pieces: "Chicken You Can't Roost Too High for Me," "Mr. Crump Don't Like It," an outstanding version of "You Shall" (commonly known as "You Shall Be Free"), and "Hey Mourner," a traditional comic anti-clerical piece. Stokes possessed a remarkable declamatory voice and was an adroit guitarist. His duets with Sane merit special attention because of their subtle interplay and propulsive rhythm.