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Legendary Mississippi bluesman L.C. Ulmer will perform in concert April 20 at Delta Symposium XVIII: Roots and Generations


Legendary Mississippi bluesman L.C. Ulmer will perform Friday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m. in Arkansas State University’s Carl R. Reng Student Union Auditorium, 101 N. Caraway Road, Jonesboro, as part of Delta Symposium XVIII: Roots and Generations. Like all Delta Symposium events, this concert is free and open to the public.

Primarily a guitarist and singer, Lee Chester (L.C.) Ulmer has been playing throughout the United States for fifty years, and for many years performed as a “twelve-piece” one-man band that included keyboards, drums, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, kazoo, and harmonica. These days, Ulmer primarily plays guitar as he performs most of his own compositions in a distinct style with a boogie beat.

Born in 1928, and growing up on a Mississippi plantation, the octogenarian learned music from his father, siblings, and cousins, as well as those musicians who visited his house to play and drink whiskey, including notable bluesman Jimmie Rodgers. His blues style was also influenced by the 78 records he heard at home where he would listen to Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller, Tampa Red, and Peetie Wheatstraw. One of the most influential musicians for Ulmer, however, was Blind Roosevelt Graves, a street musician who recorded both gospel and blues in the 1920s and ‘30s. In particular, Ulmer developed his own slide guitar technique from watching Graves play guitar.

After working on railways in Mississippi during his early teens, Ulmer traveled to Kansas City and played guitar for gospel quartets as well as blues gigs that included backing Chicago-based J.B. Lenoir. Eventually finding work at a nightclub on Route 66, Ulmer met and/or played with numerous famous musicians, including Elvis Presley, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Brook Benton, Nat King Cole, Fats Domino, and Louis Armstrong. He then travelled to Hollywood, California, where he made a living playing on the streets and where he joined the musicians’ union before continuing to travel back and forth to Canada and Alaska.

Ulmer visited his parents regularly in Mississippi during the 1950s, and he then settled for a while in Laurel,Mississippi, where he formed a band that played at local clubs. He eventually moved to Joliet, Illinois, where he remained 37 years working various odd jobs while performing regularly as a one-man-band in clubs there. During this time, he performed with Chicago-based blues artists including Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Hound Dog Taylor, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Thompson, and many others. At this time, Ulmer also experimented with various sorts of instruments, including an early synthesizer.

Since returning to Mississippi in 2001, Ulmer has performed locally, as well as at Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival, the Shed Blues Festival in Ocean Springs, and at the Blues Today Symposium in Oxford. In June 2007, he performed at the Roots and Blues Festival in Parma, Italy. In June 2008, he performed at the Chicago Blues Festival for the first time.

Clearly, Ulmer’s upbringing, his travels and interactions with some of this country’s greatest early Delta bluesmen, and his early exposure to listening to the music of great blues recording artists while experimenting with different instruments, were all important contributions toward the shaping of L. C. Ulmer’s own style. This legendary bluesman’s Friday evening performance is therefore a perfect fit for this year’s Delta Symposium theme of Roots and Generations.

For more information, contact Dr. Gregory Hansen at (870) 972-3043. For an overview of this year’s programming, see the general release for Delta Symposium XVIII: Roots and Generations. Vist the Delta Symposium homepage or visit the Delta Symposium on Facebook.