Saunders Terrell, better known as Sonny Terry (24 October 1911 – 11 March 1986) was a blind American Piedmont blues musician.He was widely known for his energetic blues harmonica style, which frequently included vocal whoops and hollers, and imitations of trains and fox hunts. His father, a farmer, taught him to play basic blues harp as a youth. He sustained injuries to his eyes and lost his sight by the time he was 16, which prevented him from doing farm work himself. In order to earn a living Terry was forced to play music. He began playing in Shelby, North Carolina. After his father died he began playing in the trio of Piedmont blues-style guitarist Blind Boy Fuller. When Fuller died in 1941, he established a long-standing musical relationship with Brownie McGhee, and the pair recorded numerous songs together. The duo became well-known among white audiences, as they joined the growing folk movement of the 1950s and 1960s. This included collaborations with Styve Homnick, Woody Guthrie and Moses Asch, producing Folkways Records (now Smithsonian/Folkways) classic recordings. In 1938 Terry was invited to play at Carnegie Hall for the first From Spirituals to Swing concert, and later that year he recorded for the Library of Congress. In 1940 Terry recorded his first commercial sides. Some of his most famous works include “Old Jabo” a song about a man bitten by a snake and “Lost John” in this he demonstrates his amazing breath control. Despite their fame as “pure” folk artists, in the 1940s, Terry and McGhee fronted a jump blues combo with honking saxophone and rolling piano that was variously called Brownie McGhee and his Jook House Rockers or Sonny Terry and his Buckshot Five. Terry died from natural causes at Mineola, New York, in March 1986, the year he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. He died three days before Crossroads was released in theaters.
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