John Henry Barbee (November 14, 1905 – November 3, 1964) was an American blues singer and guitarist. He was born William George Tucker in Henning, Tennessee, United States, and changed his name with the commencement of his recording career to reflect his favorite folk song, “The Ballad of John Henry”. Barbee toured in the 1930s throughout the American South singing and playing slide guitar. He teamed up with Big Joe Williams, and later on, with Sunnyland Slim in Memphis, Tennessee. Travelling down to Mississippi he also came across Sonny Boy Williamson I, and played with him off and on for several years. He released two sides on the Vocalion label in 1939 (“Six Weeks Old Blues” / “God Knows I Can’t Help It”). The record sold well enough to cause Vocalion to call on Barbee again, but by that time he had left his last known whereabouts in Arkansas. Barbee explained that this sudden move was due to his evading the law for shooting and killing his girlfriend’s lover. He later found out that he had only injured the man, but by the time this was discovered, Barbee had moved on from making a career out of playing music. Barbee did not show up again in the music industry until the early 1960s, whereby this time the blues revival was in full swing. Willie Dixon searched out for Barbee, and found him working as an ice cream server in Chicago, Illinois. In 1964 he joined the American Folk Blues Festival on an European tour with fellow blues players, including Lightnin’ Hopkins and Howlin’ Wolf. In a case of tragic circumstances, Barbee returned to the United States and used the money from the tour to purchase his first automobile. Only ten days after purchasing the car, he accidentally ran over and killed a man. He was locked up in a Chicago jail, and died there of a heart attack a few days later, November 3, 1964, 11 days before his 59th birthday. He is interred in the Restvale Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. On May 11, 2010 the third annual White Lake Blues Festival took place at the Howmet Playhouse Theater in Whitehall, Michigan. The concert was organized by executive producer, Steve Salter, of the nonprofit organization Killer Blues in order to raise monies to honor Barbee’s unmarked grave with a headstone. The event was a success, and a stone was placed in June, 2010.
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