Jazz Gillum

Chicago blues, Musical Artist

1904 – 1966


Who was Jazz Gillum?

William McKinley Gillum, known as Jazz Gillum, was an American blues harmonica player.

He was born in Indianola, Mississippi. After running away from home at the age of seven, Gillum spent the next few years in Charleston, Mississippi, working and playing for tips on local street corners. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1923, meeting up with the guitarist, Big Bill Broonzy. The duo started working club dates around the city and, by 1934, Gillum started recording for both ARC and Bluebird Records.

With his characteristic high, reedy harmonica sound, he appeared on many of the highly popular "Bluebird beat" recordings produced by Lester Melrose in the 1930s and 1940s, under his own name and as a sideman. Gillum was the first to record the blues classic "Key to the Highway" utilizing the now-standard melody and 8-bar blues arrangement. Gillum's version of the song was then covered by Broonzy a few months later, and has become the standard arrangement of this now-classic blues song. Gillum's records also resulted in some of the very earliest recordings of electric guitar in blues, when 16-year-old fledgling jazz guitarist George Barnes was featured on several songs on the 1938 Gillum session that produced "Reefer Headed Woman" and others.

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Sep 11, 1904
Also known as
  • Bill Jazz Gillum
  • Bill McKinley
  • Bill "Jazz" Gillum
  • Bill Jazz Gillum (Bill McKinley)
  • Gillum, Jazz
  • African American
  • United States of America
Lived in
  • Mississippi
Mar 29, 1966

on July 23, 2013


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