Blind Joe Mangrum (1853-1932)

blind joe mangrum

I first learned of Blind Joe Mangrum from Gus Meade's article about the big 1926 fiddle contest in Louisville, "Fiddles and Fords" (Journal of Country Music 12:3, 1989). Later, I came across Mangrum's "Bacon and Cabbage" reissued on LP. I haven't determined if his name was "Mangum" or "Mangrum." Sometimes it's spelled "Magnum," but his obituary used "Mangrum."

You can listen to Blind Joe play "Bacon and Cabbage" at the website for Document Records. [Update—the Document link is dead, so I have replaced it with my own link.]

Gus Meade's Country Music Sources (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002) indicates that "Bacon and Cabbage" was recorded for Victor in Nashville on October 6, 1928, along with "Bill Cheatham." Together, the two sides were released on Victor 40018 in February, 1929. Tony Russell's Country Music Records (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) mentions several other tunes recorded at the 1928 Nashville session but never issued, including "Mammoth Cave Waltz," "The Rose Waltz," and "The Cradle Song."

Alcyone Bate Beasley, a daughter of Dr. Humphrey Bate of Grand Ole Opry fame, reminisced about "Uncle Joe Mangrum" as follows in Charles K. Wolfe, ed. The Grand Ole Opry: The Early Years, 1925-35. London: Old Time Music, 1975 (86).

"Uncle Joe was one of the dearest people I've ever known in my life. He was blind, and he had a sweet wife who came with him every Saturday night, Aunt Mary. Used to bring him up there and stay right with him. He was just a gentleman. He called me 'Miss Altheon,' and one time came up and he said, 'Miss Altheon, I want to play something for you.' And so he played this pretty thing for me, and I said, 'Oh, that's so pretty, what's the name of that?' And he said he had named it after me. I thought that was the cutest thing. Fred Shriver played accordion and piano with him. Uncle Joe was a talented man. I'll tell you what he played—he played so beautifully—he played Italian things, some of those things, you can almost see gondolas. He played a lot that did not really fit in with the Opry, but it was so fine...."

I researched and transcribed the clippings below. They are mostly from 1889-1909 and thus pre-date Mangrum's 1928 recordings by over twenty years. There are some 1932 obituaries tacked on at the end.

Nashville Tennesseean ~ January 22, 1889

Dresden.—A report reached here yesterday that Joe Mangum, our blind musician, had died that day at Union City. His relatives here telegraphed and found it was a mistake. His talent is natural, he having been blind since infancy.

Nashville Tennesseean ~ January 22, 1889

Prof. Joe Mangum, the noted blind musician, went to Paducah with Mr. Dewberry to stay several days.

Hopkinsville Kentuckian, (Hopkinsville, Ky) ~ Dec 13, 1895

Union Tabernacle.

Dec. 19th, the musical wonder, Blind Joe Mangum, the greatest violinist in the country today, supported by "The Boston Madrigal Club," making it the finest musical and vocal entertainment traveling. Every member a star. Lovers of fine music and singing should not miss hearing this company. Tickets have been put down here to usual price 50 cts, this is in reach of everyone.

The Boston Madrigal Club, under the management of Prof. F. E. Williams, rendered an interesting and highly entertaining musical and literary program at the opera house last evening to a large and appreciative audience. The members of the Club acquitted themselves in a royal manner and took with them the good wishes of this city. Prof. F. E. Williams gave several imitations with the violin, in addition to a beautiful sonata. The imitation of the church organ playing "Nearer My God to Thee" was perfect and was greeted with three separate curtain calls. He is a fine performer on the king of instruments and seemed to put the breath of life and power to articulate into the violin while giving an imitation of a negro camp meeting. Miss Marie Wilbur is a beautiful singer. She has a high soprano voice, and rendered some fine selections which will long be remembered by the people of this city. —Jackson Whig

Paducah Sun ~ February 22, 1898

On Thursday evening at the Y. M. C. A. Blind Joe Mangum will give a concert, managed and directed by the Ramsey society of the Broadway Methodist church and assisted by several fine voices. This concert will no doubt be excellent.

Paducah Sun ~ February 23, 1898


The Excellent Program That Will [Be] Rendered.

The program for tomorrow's concert at the Y. M. C. A. hall for the benefit of "Blind Joe" Mangum, should be liberally patronized. It will be one of the best concerts ever given here, and it will be a genuine treat for music lovers.

The price of admission is only 25 cents. The concert will be under the auspices of the Ramsey society, who desire to thus show appreciation of the valuable services the blind virtuoso has rendered at the various churches. The program is as follows:

Piano duet—Miss Ollie Council and Harry Gilbert.
Song, "I Guess That'll Hold You For Awhile"—Master Albert Gilbert.
Violin solo, "Il Pirato"—Mr. Joe Mangum.
Piano solo, "Rigoletti di Verdi"—Miss Ollie Council.
Vocal solo, "Good-Bye, Sweet Day"—Miss Jennie Rhodes.
Clarionet solo, "Fantasia Polonaise"—Mr. Robert Robertson.
Vocal solo—Miss Julia Scott.
Violin solo, "Mazourka Sauret"—Mr. Joe Mangum.
Piano solo, "Rag" medley—Mr. Will Gilbert.
Violin duet—Miss Alma Graves and Mr. Joe Mangum.
Male quartet, "Old Mother Hubbard" (by request)—Messrs. Chastaine, Clark, Hobson, Green.
Violin solo, "Fantasie," from Il Trovatore—Mr. Joe Mangum.

Paducah Sun,  (Paducah, Ky) ~ February 24, 1898

Blind Joe Mangum will be assisted in his concert tonight at the Y. M. C. A. by Miss Allie Council, of Mayfield.

Paducah Sun,  (Paducah, Ky) ~ May  5, 1898


The concert tonight at the Y. M. C. A. hall to be given [for] the benefit of "Blind Joe" Mangum, should not be forgotten. The crowd will doubtless be large.

Paducah Sun,  (Paducah, Ky) ~ May 10 1898

Blind Joe Mangrum was unable to get here last week as expected, but will likely reach here this week, in which case, the concert will take place immediately on his arrival.

Paducah Sun,  (Paducah, Ky) ~ May 11, 1898

The choir of the Baptist church will give a concert next Tuesday night for the benefit of the well known and popular Blind Joe Mangum, who will be here at that time. The concert will be given in the association hall.

Paducah Sun,  (Paducah, Ky) ~ May 18, 1898

There was a fairly large crowd at Morton's opera house last night to attend the Blind Joe concert. The program was most attractively arranged, and was rendered in a creditable manner by all on it. The blind violinist, as usual, received his share of the applause.

The Blind Joe concert is to be given at Metropolis Thursday night by the talent that gave it here last night. Prof. Harry Gilbert, who arranged the concert, deserves great credit for its success, which is largely due to his efforts. The people of Metropolis are assured a treat when the celebrated violinist appears there.

Hickman Courier (Hickman, Ky) ~ Nov 15, 1901

A rare treat is in store for the people of Hickman. Blind Joe Mangum, assisted by some of our best local talent will give us a musical concert at the City Hall, to-night week. Blind Joe has but few equals on the violin, and all lovers of music should take advantage of this opportunity. Seats on sale at usual prices. Admission 35 and 50c.

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ March 16, 1903

Choral Society

The Choral Society will meet this evening at the First Christian Church to practice and arrange for the concert to be given on Friday evening. Prof. Dodd will lead, as Prof. Harry Gilbert went to Mayfield this afternoon to play for the Blind Joe Magnum concert to be given there tonight. Mr. Emory Hobson accompanied Prof. Gilbert to Mayfield and will also assist at the concert.

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ January 6, 1906


Well Known Violinist Here for First Time in Five Years.

Joe Mangum, better known as "Blind Joe," reported to be one of the finest violinists in the country, although handicapped by the lack of eyesight, is in Paducah, his first visit to the city in more than five years.

"Blind Joe" has been "in various spots and places," as he puts it, during his absence from the city, and although not gifted with the full powers of the ordinary person says he can "see" the wonderful improvements made in Paducah since his departure. He feels the smoothness of the concrete pavements and brick  streets and will remain here as long as "business holds out." Last night he gave a concert in the Palmer lobby and will repeat his concert tonight. He generally plays with a piano accompaniment and will give a concert at the Eagle headquarters Monday night when a special entertainment program will be rendered.

Blind Joe has been through Mississippi and other southern states, but for the past six months has been making his home in Cairo. He came to Paducah to make it his temporary home.

"I have got one of the finest toned fiddles I ever heard," he declared, "and have been offered several times the sum of $500 for it. The violin is a new one of Italian make and was presented to me railroad friends in Jackson, Tenn. By chance the fiddle developed to be excellent and full in tone and although the dealer from whom it was purchased got other instruments exactly the duplicate in make and appearance, no fiddle with its tone was found among them."

He will play Monday night at the Eagles with Prof. Harry Gilbert as his pianist.

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ January 8, 1906

Blind Joe Mangum's friends here are starting a move to give a private concert for his benefit, the subscription list to be limited to those who enjoy fine music.

Blind Joe plays all the higher class of music and hates to give hotel concerts where he is forced to play little "stuff." He is recognized as one of the finest violinists in the country and his friends who desire to hear him at his best will shortly start a subscription, each throwing in a dollar for admittance. The list will be limited, probably to 50 or 100 persons, and the concert will be private.

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ January 9, 1906


Tells of His First and Last Appearance With a Blind Man.

The first appearance of "Blind Joe" Mangum in private concert since he arrived in Paducah this visit will be tonight at the headquarters of the Eagles Lodge at 6th and Broadway. The concert has been arranged by Mr. mangum's friends and all are invited to attend. Blind Joe will render a mixed program of classical, standard and popular "stuff." No admission will be charged. This idea was hit upon by members of the Eagles Lodge who wanted to give a sort of exclusive concert which will be atronized by lovers of music only.

Blind Joe is one of the best storytellers on the road.

He says that never but once in his life did he attempt to appear with one of similar misfortune. "It happened down in Dresden, Tenn. where I was born and raised," said the musician in telling of it. "There was an old blind banjo player of the backwoods type. He played about as bad as one can imagine and hunted me up to help him out. It was on county court day and the town was full of "rubes." He wanted me to get up on a big box and assist him in his street concert. He was one of those con men who play on the ignorance of the rubes and all the time he talked to the crowd he was picking at his banjo "tuning up." Now if there is anything I hate it is to hear a fellow trying to tune up and talk at the same time, because you cannot do either successfully when you try both together. So he talked and this was about his spiel.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you see here before you two men who have never seen the beauties of nature—never seen the light of day—here he would pick dismally at his banjo—"I'm going to play you a very sad song; one that will touch your heart. It is the story of the Poor Little Frozen Boy."

"Well, that tuning up and talking was enough but when he announced what he was going to play, I could not hold myself. I shoved that fellow off the box and 'hit the grit' as they say. This was my first and last experience as partner with anyone suffering from blindness."

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ January 10, 1906


"Blind Joe" Had Small But Appreciative Audience.

"Blind Joe" Mangum made his first appearance in private concert last night at the Eagles' headquarters, playing to a small but select and appreciative audience.

There were many ladies in attendance and the concert was one of the best ever heard in the city. He played a mixed program assisted by Mrs. P. H. Stewart, accompanist. Attorney Tome Harrison, a member of the Eagles order, made a short speech during an intermission, welcoming the ladies to the lodge rooms.

Blind Joe has several anthems and musical compositions of various classes which he will have written by Mr. H. Miller Cunningham, the composer-publisher, and his stuff will be put on the market.

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ January 15, 1906

Mr. H. Miller Cunningham, the composer-publisher, is preparing to place some of "Blind Joe" Mangum's music on the market. "Blind Joe" has several sets of fine waltzes and some marches which will take. Mr. Cunningham has written off several waltzes and marches for the blind musician and will push the compositions on the market.

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ January 23, 1906

Mr. W. T. Mangum, of Dresden, Tenn., who is travelling out of Louisville for an oil concern, is in the city and saw his brother, Mr. Joe Mangum, the blind violinist, for the first time in many months. He will remain in the city a few days on buisness, and is at The Palmer.

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ February 9, 1906

Blind Joe as Composer

Mr. H. Miller Cunningham, the musician-publisher, has a march and set of waltzes by Joe Mangum (Blind Joe), which are now in the forms being prepared for publication. The compositions will be pushed on the market by the publisher, who thinks he will make a hit with the Mangum compositions.

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ February 23, 1906

To Play in Mayfield.

Mr. J. E. Wright went to Paducah this morning to accompany Blind Joe Mangum to the city, who will give a free concert tonight at the Southern hotel. — Mayfield Messenger.

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ March 19, 1906

Minstrel May Go to Metropolis.

The talk of taking the Eagles' minstrels to Cairo has about ceased, but there is some disposition to take the show to Metropolis at an early date. The minstrel will be repeated in Paducah within two weeks, it is said, and will be given this time in its entirety. The first part setting will be rearranged and made a little longer. The olio will also be rearranged and some new features added. One of the features of the minstrel olio will probably be a violin solo by Joe Mangum (Blind Joe).

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ June 1, 1906

Blind Joe's Music.

The original compositions of Joe Mangum (Blind Joe), will soon be placed on the market and lovers of music will be given an opportunity to procure some of the popular composer's music. Blind Joe has been in Paducah several months and his compositions were taken down by Harry M. Cunningham, who had them published. A march entitled "Hocuspocus" was placed on sale this morning. Waltzes and other original compositions will follow.

Paducah Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ August 27, 1906

Blind Joe Mongum [sic] is reported as seriously ill at Mayfield.

Paducah Evening Sun, (Paducah, Ky) ~ March 14, 1907

Two Former Paducahans in Fulton.

With "Bobbie" Caldwell in his "specialties" and "Blind Joe" Mangrum to play the "Mocking Bird," the Fulton chapter U. D. C. should score a hit in "Dixie," as the Fulton Daily Leader says:

"The Daughters of the Confederacy are sure of pleasing Fulton's public in the play "Dixie" to be presented at the Vendome opera house on the evening of the 15th. Come and hear 'Dixie,' 'The Bonnie Blue Flag,' 'Maryland, My Maryland' and one of the best features will be Joe Mangrum's 'Mocking Bird.' Guy Freeman as a grand Seignor, Ernest Fall as a Spanish don, N. G. Cooke and Rob Caldwell in their particular stunts will be well worth seeing."

Hickman Courier (Hickman, Ky) ~ May 10, 1907

The young ladies of the Methodist church have secured the services of Blind Joe to assist in a concert to be given at the Court House, on Friday evening, May 17; admission 35c and school children 25c.

Hickman Courier (Hickman, Ky) ~ May 17, 1907

A Rare Treat.

Blind Joe Mangum, the noted Violinist, will play at the court House tonight. He will be assisted by local talent, with songs and recitations.

The entertainment will be given by the young ladies of the Methodist Church. Admission, general, 35 cents; for children, 25.

Everyone who knows Blind Joe is. [sic] know his reputation, and most of the people have heard him. This should be sufficient announcement.

Hickman Courier (Hickman, Ky) ~ May 24, 1907

The musical given by the ladies of the Methodist church last Friday night was one of the best musical treats of the season. Blind Joe Mangum, the noted violinist, rendered a number of pieces that were masterful and touching, and was repeatedly encored. Mr. F. R. Stover also assisted with a beautiful cornet solo. These were assisted by our local talent, all of which were highly appreciated. The ladies cleared about [335?] by their efforts.

Paducah Evening Sun ~ April 28, 1909

Blind Joe Mangrum is booked over vaudeville circuit at $200 the week.

Paducah Evening Sun ~ May 11, 1909

News of Theatres

"Blind Jo" Mangrum

"Blind Jo," the violinist, is booked to go into vaudeville for many of the largest southern cities on the circuit. This talented musician is known to almost everyone in Paducah and west Kentucky and their best wishes will go with him. Jo has delighted Paducah audiences with his violin on numerous occasions. he has always been free with his great gift on any occasion. The following article is from the Mayfield Messenger:

blind joe mangrum

The above cut represents Blind Joe, the wonderful violin soloist.

Joe Mangrum was born and reared in Weakley County, Tenn., and at the age of six weeks he became totally blind, and has remained entirely blind ever since. At the age of nine years he took up the study of the violin in his own peculiar way, holding the violin on his knee as indicated in the above picture. Without any instruction whatever in the art of music at any time in his life, and only with the aid of that wonderful gift with which nature has so kindly endowed him, and his close application to the instrument, he has accomplished wonderful results. Blind Joe possesses a power with the violin which is in many respects equal to, and in some respects greater than some of the famous violin soloists in the world.

His pathetic and appealing tones never fail to elicit the most favorable comment from musicians and from all classes of music-loving people who hear him play.

His musical gifts are not confined alone to the art of playing the instrument, but embrace the powers of writing the different classes of music, as is evidenced by his many compositions which are being played on the different music instruments by other musicians and orchestras as well as himself.

Blind Joe's repertoire of music, which he has committed to memory, embracing all classes of music, from the simplest to the grandest, is no doubt the most extensive that has ever been known.

Considering the fact that he cannot read the music as it is printed on the paper in any form, and yet he learns it and plays it with absolute correctness, which is by no mean the least of his rare gifts, it would not be extravagant to say he is the only one in his class of violin players of the present time.

Hickman Courier (Hickman, Ky) ~ May 17, 1907

A Rare Treat.

Blind Joe Mangum, the noted Violinist, will play at the court House tonight. He will be assisted by local talent, with songs and recitations.

The entertainment will be given by the young ladies of the Methodist Church. Admission, general, 35 cents; for children, 25.

Everyone who knows Blind Joe is. [sic] know his reputation, and most of the people have heard him. This should be sufficient announcement.

Nashville Tennesseean ~ July 29, 1916


A very attractive musical program has been arranged for the evening service at the Adams Presbyterian church Sunday night, at which time Jesse Roberts will act as master of ceremonies, and direct a choir of thirty-five voices, which will sing some appropriate hymns. The pastor, Rev. T. H. Harrison, will preach on "The Effect of Music." Joseph Mangrum, a violinist with a nation-wide reputation, will render several selections on his violin. Mr. Mangrum, who has been blind from youth, is now a man of considerable age. He was born near Martin, Tenn. Mr. Mangrum will be accompanied at the piano by Miss Anna E. Hooper, who is an accomplished pianist. It is said by musicians that Mr. Mangrum is a wonder in the music world. It was through the efforts of J. H. Spencer that Mr. Harrison was able to secure Mr. Mangrum for the Sunday evening service.

Kingsport Times (Tennessee) ~ January 14, 1932

Bob Taylor's Violinist Dies

NASHVILLE. Jan. 14. (AP)—A heart attack, suffered Tuesday, proved fatal yesterday to "Uncle" Joe Mangum, 79-year-old blind violinist, who frequently accompanied the late Governor Robert L. "Bob" Taylor on campaign tours and played with him before his audiences.

"Uncle Joe," blind from infancy, never studied under a violin teacher but once told interviewers he had memorized more than 5,000 compositions. While still a young man, he was invited to play before members of what is now the Chicago Civic Opera Co. and was allotted 45 minutes, but instead he held his audience for twice that time.

Nashville Tennesseean ~ January 14, 1932


Funeral services for "Uncle Joe" Mangum, 79, blind violinist, who participated regularly in the Saturday night barn-dance programs over WSM will be held this afternoon at 1 o'clock at Wiles-Bracey-Marshall funeral home with the Rev. Rufus Beckett officiating.

Burial will be in Dresden Friday.

"Uncle Joe" was blind from birth but began playing a violin when a very young child. His fame spread and he was asked to appear before a group now known as the Chicago Civic opera when a young man. Tennesseeans learned to know him and enjoy his music during the campaign of Bob Taylor, whom he accompanied. In recent years he broadcast weekly from WSM.

Death resulted from a heart attack suffered at his home, 127 Sixth avenue, south. Survivors are his wife, known to many as "Aunt Mary" Mangum; and two brothers, Ed of Aberdeen, Miss., and W. T. of Dresden.

Obituary ~ Progress ~ January 22, 1932


January 22, 1932

Blind Violinist Dead

"Blind Joe" Mangrum, 79-year-old violinist, died at his home in Nashville Wednesday morning following a heart attack. Born in Dresden, Weakley County, and having spent virtually all his life in West Tennessee and West Kentucky, "Blind Joe" Mangrum was known to hundreds of music lovers from Paducah to Memphis. The earliest recollection of many now in middle age are of Blind Joe playing his fiddle. A concert in one of the towns of West Tennessee was always followed by a week's visit as the guest of some of the town's most prominent families.

He lost his sight when six weeks old. Playing the violin came to him almost naturally, and at 12 he was an accomplished musician. He never took a music lesson but the classics were as familiar to him as the song of the day. "I remember the first piece I learned to play," he said one day. "It was ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.' I learned to play, ‘Listen to the Mocking Bird' by following a Mocking Bird across the square at Dresden."

Several years ago Blind Joe was invited to play before the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Allotted 45 minutes, he held his audience for more than an hour. It was said of him that he had memorized more than 5,000 compositions for the violin.

Much of his life was spent as a bachelor, but about 15 years ago he married. For several years he and Mrs. Mangrum lived in Memphis at the State Hotel on South Main Street. For the last few months he had been playing on the Saturday night programs of a Nashville radio station. His widow, Mrs. Mary Mangrum survives.--Carroll County Democrat.

Many a night have I sat in the Southern Hotel in Jackson when it was run by one of the most lovely women I have ever known, Mrs. Jenny Day, and listened to Blind Joe Mangrum play on his violin until the midnight hours. One occasion I especially remember sitting in Jackson until one a.m., listening to Blind Joe and that night he played nothing but break-down music of the South-and how he did play it. It was marvelous. There was present a young fellow named Jim Samuels, a gifted violinist who had received his musical education in Europe and when Jim attempted to play "Arkansas Traveler," Blind Joe said, "Boy, let me show you something." And he played that old classic as I never heard it before.

Before reading the above article, I had never known how he learned to play "Listen to the Mocking Bird," with variations, but I can still say that in all my life I never have heard anyone play the Mocking Bird as Joe did.

So long as Mrs. Day lived and Joe went to Jackson, he had a free room and a meal ticket in the Southern Hotel.

He loved his violin and all who loved it. He would sit for hours and play for one man who listened attentively but if any talked in his presence while he was playing he never would play for that person again if he knew who it was.

I have heard many masters of the violin in the city and fiddlers in the county play that king of stringed instruments but Blind Joe was able to evoke from its strings and bow the sweetest strains I ever heard any one to do. We hear of harps in heaven, but I take it that with Joe, it will be his old violin, reincarnated and transported to the Celestial Empire.