Big Joe Turner, A Resilient Pioneer Of Rhythm And Blues

Big Joe Turner performing in concert 1973
Emeka Ochiagha
July 26, 2021

“Chains of love … [have] tied my heart to you,” the singer croons. The smoke in the room winds around the jazzy rhythms his band delivers to a passionate audience. 

His star power is magnetic. It’s 1951, and Big Joe Turner has the top-selling R&B record in the country! But it isn’t all peaches and roses.

White people are covering his songs and making them palatable for white audiences. They’re making fortunes off of HIS art! But here, in this smoky nightclub in New York, surrounded by Black faces, is where the music matters.

He remembered how hard he had to hustle. He sang at church choirs at first, and then to make some extra cash he would sing at bars. That’s when record producer John Hammond found him, and transformed his life.

Hammond took him to New York for the first time, to perform at a Carnegie Hall concert. Turner looked out at the crowd, he mustered all he had and sang. 

They loved him, and despite white shenanigans, he kept enthralling the audiences that mattered.

Despite being a Black musician in the early 20th century, and the musical thievery that came along with it, Big Joe Turner was still a star. He challenged the systems of the music industry with his relentless spirit and sheer talent. We should follow suit as we pursue our dreams, despite the oppressive obstacles put in our paths!

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