David “Honeyboy” Edwards, a Delta blues guitarist and lifetime Grammy Award recipient who said he was there when iconic bluesman Robert Johnson took his last drink of poisoned whiskey, has died. He was 96.
Edwards died of congestive heart failure early Monday morning in his Chicago apartment, according to his website. He last performed April 17 at the Juke Joint Festival and Cathead Mini-Festival in Clarksdale, Miss.; he had planned to tour the U.S. and Europe this summer but became ill and announced his retirement in July.
Edwards won a 2008 Grammy for best traditional blues album and last year was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
“A gifted artist, his authentic blues songwriting told stories of folklore and travels while showcasing his gritty, edgy guitar style and Mississippi Delta roots,” Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow said in a statement. “Honeyboy played right up until the final years of his long life, and his legacy undoubtedly will continue to influence blues musicians for generations. “
A native of Shaw, Miss., Edwards left home at age 14 to travel with bluesman Big Joe Williams, taking to the road throughout the 1930s and ’40s to escape the labors of sharecropping. In addition to Williams, he played with such Delta Blues greats as Johnson, Charley Patton and Little Walter Jacobs.
In 1942, Edwards was taped by folklorist Alan Lomax, who was doing field recordings for the Library of Congress. The guitarist and singer recorded his first hit, “Drop Down Mama,” for Chess Records in 1953 and settled down in Chicago.
Edwards published an autobiography, “The World Don’t Owe Me Nothin’,” in 1998, and appeared in the 2007 film Walk “Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”
During the Grammy preshow in 2008, Edwards played guitar in a trio with Pinetop Perkins on piano and Koko Taylor on vocals (combined age: 258) doing “Let the Good Times Roll.” Edwards and Perkins later took the stage to accept the best traditional blues Grammy for an album they recorded with Henry James Townsend and Robert Lockwood Jr.
Johnson died at age 27 on Aug. 16, 1938, a few days after drinking from an open bottle of whiskey that some theorize was laced with strychnine by a jealous juke joint owner.