Thursday, March 5, 2009

John Cephas obit, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Legendary Piedmont blues guitarist John Cephas dies at 78

By Ellen Robertson, Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 5, 2009

John "Bowling Green" Cephas, the legendary Piedmont blues guitarist and baritone vocalist who was recently honored as a 2009 Library of Virginia African American Trailblazer, died Wednesday morning at home in Woodford in Caroline County.

The much-honored and widely traveled 78-year-old Washington native, who recently retired because of illness, had been unable to attend the library awards ceremony last week. He was breathing with the aid of oxygen in recorded remarks to the audience that said how touched he was by the honor.

Born into a deeply religious family, he took his nickname from the Virginia town of Bowling Green, where he was reared hearing gospel music. He grew up listening to his grandfather's stories of slave ancestors on the Eastern Shore and his mother's singing. He learned about the blues from a guitar-picking aunt. "Blues music is truth," Mr. Cephas once said.

He learned the alternating thumb-and-finger picking style that is the trademark of East Coast or Piedmont blues from his cousin, David Taleofero, a well-known Caroline County guitar player. Mr. Cephas began to imitate music he heard on records -- ragtime-era music and early Piedmont talents such as Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, the Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Tampa Red influenced his style.

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