Jimmy Witherspoon

Jimmy Witherspoon
Jimmy Witherspoon.jpg
Witherspoon in June 1976
Background information
Born(1920-08-08)August 8, 1920
Gurdon, Arkansas, U.S.
DiedSeptember 18, 1997(1997-09-18) (aged 77)
Los Angeles, California
GenresBlues, jump blues[1]
Years active1940s–1990s

James Witherspoon (August 8, 1920 – September 18, 1997) was an American jump blues singer.[1]

Early life and career

Witherspoon was born in Gurdon, Arkansas.[2] He first attracted attention singing in Calcutta, India, with Teddy Weatherford's band, which made regular radio broadcasts over the U.S. Armed Forces Radio Service during World War II. Witherspoon made his first records with Jay McShann's band in 1945. He first recorded under his own name in 1947,[3] and two years later with the McShann band, he had his first hit, "Ain't Nobody's Business,"[2] a song that came to be regarded as his signature tune. In 1950 he had hits with two more songs closely identified with him—"No Rollin' Blues" and "Big Fine Girl"—and also with "Failing by Degrees" and "New Orleans Woman", recorded with the Gene Gilbeaux Orchestra (which included Herman Washington and Don Hill) for Modern Records. These were recorded at a live performance on May 10, 1949, at a "Just Jazz" concert in Pasadena, California, sponsored by Gene Norman. Another classic Witherspoon composition is "Times Gettin' Tougher Than Tough".

Witherspoon performed in four of the famed Cavalcade of Jazz concerts held in Los Angeles at Wrigley Field which were produced by Leon Hefflin Sr. His first performance was at the fourth Cavalcade of Jazz on September 12, 1948 and Dizzy Gillespie was the featured artist along with Frankie Lane, Little Miss Cornshucks, The Sweetheart of Rhythms, The Honeydrippers, Joe Turner, The Blenders and the Sensations[4]. The program description states about Witherspoon that "he is one of the most sought-after blues singers in the business. He has a strong, clear voice and diction that you would hear in the classics. Although he has been quite successful singing the blues, Witherspoon can sing ballads with a surprising sweetness." He played at the fifth Cavalcade of Jazz concert on July 10, 1949, along with Lionel Hampton, The Hamptones, Buddy Banks and his Orchestra, Big Jay McNeely and Smiley Turner.[5] Witherspoon came back again for the seventh Cavalcade of Jazz concert on July 8, 1951 and performed alongside Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton and his Revue, Percy Mayfield, Joe Liggins' Honeydrippers, and Roy Brown.[6] His last appearance at the eighth Cavalcade of Jazz concert was on June 1, 1952. Also featured that day was Anna Mae Winburn and Her Sweethearts, Jerry Wallace, Toni Harper, Roy Brown and His Mighty Men, Louis Jordan and his Orchestra and Josephine Baker.[7]

Witherspoon's style of blues—that of the "blues shouter"—became unfashionable in the mid-1950s, but he returned to popularity with his 1959 album Jimmy Witherspoon at the Monterey Jazz Festival, which features Roy Eldridge, Woody Herman, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines and Mel Lewis, among others.[8] Witherspoon later recorded with Gerry Mulligan, Leroy Vinnegar, Richard "Groove" Holmes and T-Bone Walker.[2]

Tours and successes

In 1961 he toured Europe with Buck Clayton and returned to the UK on many occasions, featuring on a mid-'60s live UK recording, Spoon Sings and Swings (1966), with tenor sax player Dick Morrissey's quartet. In 1970, Witherspoon appeared on Brother Jack McDuff's London Blue Note recording To Seek a New Home together with British jazz musicians, including Dick Morrissey, again, and Terry Smith. In the 1970s Witherspoon also recorded the album Guilty! (later released on CD as Black & White Blues) with Eric Burdon[2] and featuring Ike White & the San Quentin Prison Band. He then toured with a band of his own featuring Robben Ford and Russ Ferrante. A recording from this period, Spoonful, featured Witherspoon accompanied by Robben Ford, Joe Sample, Cornell Dupree, Thad Jones and Bernard Purdie.[9] He continued performing and recording into the 1990s.[9]

Other performers with whom Witherspoon recorded include Jimmy Rowles, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Vernon Alley, Mel Lewis, Teddy Edwards, Gerald Wiggins, John Clayton, Paul Humphrey, Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Jimmy Smith, Long John Baldry, Junior Mance, Ellington bassist Jimmy Woode, Kenny Clarke, Gerry Mulligan, Jim Mullen, Count Basie, Van Morrison, Dutch Swing College Band, and Gene Gilbeaux, among others.


In the 1995 film Georgia, Witherspoon portrayed a traveling, gun-collecting blues singer, Trucker, who has a relationship with the troubled character Sadie, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

He played Nate Williams in The Black Godfather (1974) and Percy in To Sleep with Anger (1990).


Witherspoon died of throat cancer on September 18, 1997, in Los Angeles.[10]

Witherspoon's grandson Ahkello Witherspoon is the starting cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers.[11]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Jimmy Witherspoon among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[12]



  • Goin' to Kansas City Blues with Jay McShann (RCA Victor, 1957)
  • Wilbur De Paris Plays & Jimmy Witherspoon Sings New Orleans Blues (Atlantic, 1957)
  • At the Monterey Jazz Festival (HiFi Jazz, 1959)
  • Feelin' the Spirit (HiFi Jazz, 1959)
  • Singin' the Blues (World Pacific, 1959)
  • Sings the Blues (Crown, 1960)
  • At the Renaissance (HiFi Jazz, 1960)
  • Jimmy Witherspoon (Crown, 1960)
  • Hey, Mrs. Jones (Reprise, 1961)
  • Roots (Reprise, 1961)
  • Spoon (Reprise, 1961)
  • With Buck Clayton (Vogue, 1961)
  • Baby, Baby, Baby (Prestige, 1963)
  • Evenin' Blues (Prestige, 1963)
  • Blue Spoon (Prestige, 1964)
  • Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues (Prestige, 1964)
  • Blues Around the Clock (Prestige, 1964)
  • Blues for Spoon and Groove (Surrey, 1965)
  • In Person (Vogue, 1965)
  • Spoon in London (Prestige, 1965)
  • A Spoonful of Blues (Ember, 1966)
  • A Blue Point of View (Verve, 1966)
  • Spoon Sings and Swings (Fontana, 1966)
  • The Blues Is Now with Brother Jack McDuff (Verve, 1967)
  • Blues for Easy Livers (Prestige, 1967)
  • A Spoonful of Soul (Verve, 1968)
  • Live (Stateside, 1968)
  • (BluesWay, 1969)
  • Hunh! (BluesWay 1970)
  • Handbags and Gladrags (ABC, 1971)
  • Guilty with Eric Burdon (MGM, 1971)
  • The Spoon Concerts (Fantasy, 1972)
  • Previously Unreleased Recordings with Ben Webster (Verve, 1973)
  • Love Is a Five Letter Word (Capitol, 1975)
  • Spoonful (Blue Note, 1975)
  • Live in Paris with Buck Clayton (Jazz Vogue, 1977)
  • Live Jimmy Witherspoon & Robben Ford (LAX, 1977)
  • Live at the Watts Jazz Festival Volume 1 (LAX, 1977)
  • Olympia Concert (Inner City, 1980)
  • Big Blues (JSP, 1981)
  • Sing the Blues with Panama Francis and the Savoy Sultans (Muse, 1983)
  • Spoonful o' Blues (Kent, 1984)
  • Patcha, Patcha, All Night Long with Joe Turner (Pablo, 1985)
  • Midnight Lady Called the Blues (Muse, 1986)
  • Never Knew This Kind of Hurt Before: The Bluesway Sessions (Charly, 1988)
  • Rockin' L.A. (Fantasy, 1989)
  • Spoon So Easy (Chess, 1990)
  • Live at Condon's, New York (Who's Who in Jazz, 1990)
  • Call My Baby (Night Train, 1991)
  • Live at the Notodden Blues Festival with Robben Ford (Blue Rock'it 1992)
  • The Blues, the Whole Blues and Nothing But the Blues (Indigo, 1993)
  • Ain't Nobody's Business (Orbis 1992)
  • American Blues (Avenue Jazz, 1995)
  • Spoon's Blues (Stony Plain, 1995)
  • Live at the Mint (On the Spot, 1996)
  • Tougher Than Tough (Blue Moon, 1997)
  • Jimmy Witherspoon with the Duke Robillard Band (Stony Plain, 2000)
  • Spoon Meets Pao (Eastside, 2002)
  • Urban Blues Singing Legend (JSP, 2006)
  • Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival with Robben Ford (Monterey Jazz Festival, 2008)

Chart singles

Year Single Chart Positions
US Pop[13] US
1949 "Ain't Nobody's Business (Parts 1 & 2)" 1
"In the Evening" 5
"No Rollin' Blues" 4
"Big Fine Girl" 4
1952 "The Wind Is Blowin'" 7
1965 "You're Next" 98
1975 "Love Is a Five Letter Word" 31


  • 2003: 20th Century Jazz Masters: Mel Tormé/Jimmy Witherspoon/Carmen McRae/Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan
  • 2003: Jazz Casual, Jimmy Rushing, Jimmy Witherspoon
  • 2009: Goin' Down Blues



  1. ^ a b Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music. Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
  2. ^ a b c d "About the Spoon". Official Spoon. Archived from the original on 2007-09-16. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  3. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 13. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  4. ^ O'Connell, Sean J. Los Angeles's Central Avenue jazz. Charleston, South Carolina. ISBN 146713130X. OCLC 866922945.
  5. ^ “Star Studded Show At Wrigley Field Sunday, July 10th” Article The California Eagle June 30, 1949.
  6. ^ “Jazz Greats Will Entertain Throngs” Article and Photo caption The California Eagle July 5, 1951.
  7. ^ “That Man Who Sings The Blues” Los Angeles Sentinel May 15, 1952.
  8. ^ Russell (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. p. 192.
  9. ^ a b "Spoon's Discography". Official Spoon. Archived from the original on 2007-09-16. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  10. ^ Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1996–1997". TheDeadRockStarsClub.com. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  11. ^ "49ers Roster - San Francisco 49ers – 49ers.com". www.49ers.com. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  12. ^ Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955–2002. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 774. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
  14. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–1995. Record Research. p. 490.
  15. ^ "Jimmy Witherspoon, Jazz Casual: Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic.com. 2003-12-02. Retrieved 2015-08-30.

External links