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Willie Foster
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Willy Foster
Blues

Birthdate - September 19, 1921
Birthplace - Outside Leland, Mississippi
Death - May 20, 2001
Last Residence - Greenville, Mississipi
Willie James Foster, known around his home of Greenville, Mississippi as the "Godfather of The Blues", says, I am the blues from the bottom of my foot to the hair on my head. I was born in the blues, raised in the blues and lived the blues.
Willie Foster was born Sept. 19, 1921 on a cotton sack four miles east of Leland while his mother was picking cotton. After that experience she was never able to have any more children. His family share cropped and made about $100 a year. He bought juice harps at age 5 or 6 and made a diddley bow on the side of the house. Bought his first harmonica for 25 cents he saved from carrying water to the fields for two weeks at age seven. With no sisters or brothers he helped his family farm and shared cropped from age 7 to 17 often with sacks tied on his feet for shoes. He only got to attend school until fourth grade and later years only when it rained and he couldn’t go to the field.

At age 17 Willie migrated north to Detroit where he worked in the auto industry. During WWII, he joined the army and was sent to Europe. There he played his harmonica for Joe Louis and Betty Grable at a show in London for the soldiers.
Willie had heard Muddy Waters in jukes in Mississippi but met him in Chicago. Willie and his three piece band from St.Louis often toured with Muddy's band. He came back to Mississippi in 1963 to take care of his dad who was involved in a severe car accident. He worked around the Delta and started playing jukes around Holly Ridge, Indianola, and Greenville.
Midge Marsden , a New Zealander, heard Willie in 1991 while visiting the Mississippi Delta and invited him to play there for three months. Willie's career started to take off after his return home. Since then he has played over seas several times and all over the United States with his band "The Rhytmn and Blues Upsetters."
Willie Foster can be heard on Palindrome Records,"My Life" and RMD Music, Willie J. Foster, "At Home With The Blues". His latest CD with The Rhytmn and Blues Upsetters is "Live At Airport Grocery" on Mempho Records.
Willie and band play regularly at The Walnut Street Bait Shop in Greenville, Mississippi and different venues throughout the south.

**

Willie James Foster was born "like a rabbit" between the rows of a cotton field outside of Leland, Mississippi, on September 19, 1921. His mother went into labor while picking cotton on the plantation where she sharecropped. After Willie's birth she wasn't able to have any more children (delta musicians).

At age five he recognized he would like to play an instrument, so he bought juice harps and made a diddly bow. At age seven he bought his first harmonica for 25 cents that he had saved from carrying water to the fields for two weeks of pay. He became the first musician of his family. The Fosters had little money and often he had sacks tied on his feet for shoes. Willie Foster quit school in the fourth grade.

In 1937, Foster saw Muddy Waters perfom at the Dunleith plantation, and he also remembered a visit by John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. Iin 1938, at age 17, Foster migrated to the north to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked in factories for three years. Then he signed up for World War II duties. He was stationed in England and recalled his first stage appearance a performance on the harp during a talent show.

Once he left the service,Foster shuttled between Mississippi, Detroit, and Chicago, before he settled in St. Louis, where he formed with the 3W's. Willie Foster, Willie Williams, and Willie Howard made up the members of the group. In 1951, he performed for his first paying job as a musician at Green's Grocery where they played for a soda. In 1953, Willie Foster met Muddy Waters in Chicago, where they both performed. In 1963, Foster moved back to Mississippi to care for his father ,who had been in a severe car accident . He began playing area jukes in Holly Ridge, Indianola, and Greenville.

In the 70's, when he was living in Greenville, Foster was playing regularly with James "T-Model" Ford, Asie Payton, and Frank Frost. In the 80's he formed a new band "Rhythm and Blues Upsetters. In 1992 he traveled to New Zealand for an extended stay with the band of Midge Mardsen. While in New Zealand, Foster cut his foot in the ocean, an injury that caused infection that eventually led to the amputation of both legs.

Foster's first CD, At Home With The Blues was issued on the Greenville-based RMD Music label in 1993. Two more CD's followed My Life and I Found Joy followed on the Palindrome label. In 1996 he visited the Netherlands to appear at the Blues Estafette Festival in Utrecht, and returned to the country in 1999 for the Kwadendamme Blues Festival. In 2000, Live At Airport Grocery was released by Mempho Recordings.

Willie Foster died of a heart attack in his sleep after a performance at a private party in Jackson, Tennessee, early on the morning of May 20, 2001. The Willie Foster Band aka the Rhythm & Blues Upsetters performed as a tribute to the late Willie J. Foster at the Historic Princess Theater in downtown Columbus Mississippi, on Sat. May 18th 2002, a year after the 79-year-old bluesman Willie Foster died in a hotel room on Sunday, May the 20th 2001. Foster is survived by his wife Chestrene, six children, twelve grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He lays at rest in Holly Ridge near his parents.

Timeline for Willie Foster
1921 - Born outside of Leland, Mississippi.
1928 - Bought his first harmonica.
1930 - He stopped going to school.
1938 - Willie migrated north to Detroit and joined the army where he was shipped off to Europe.
1950 - Willie joined the 3W's.
1951 Got his first playing job as a musicians.
1963 - Moved back to Mississippi.
1980's -Willie formed a band the Rhythm and Blues Upsetters.
1991 - Willie became known across the world.
1993 - First C.D. was published called Home with the Blues.
1994 - Leg was removed from infection.
1996 - He appeared at The Blues Estafette Festival in Utrecht, Holland.
2000 - His other leg was removed.
2000 - Willy appeared at the Kwadendamme Bluesfestival, Holland
2001 - May 20 he was pronounced dead.

www.myspace.com/willyfosterrip

 

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