Geeshie Wiley

Background

Geeshie Wiley is another pre-war blues musician who’s quite obscure — no photo exists of her (the one on this page is just an apocryphal photo), and she only recorded a handful of songs; her date of birth is also not known very clearly.

She recorded 6 songs in total, with 4 of those 6 featuring her friend Elvie Thomas. The songs she sang, such as Last Kind Words and Motherless Child Blues, are replete with very meaningful and harrowing themes of life and death. As well, the cleanliness and creativity of her guitar playing are well-represented in just those 6 songs.

Guitar style

Geeshie Wiley plays quite a large number rarer vocabulary on the guitar, even though she used Standard tuning on songs like Last Kind Words. From the treble-side sliding riffs to the sweeping-style, right-hand technique of plucking chords that she’d sometimes use (as well some creative fingerstyle patterns on the bass-side), her playing is different from what you might hear among other pre-war artists.

History

After much research by musicologists, there’s at least been some light shed on Wiley’s life. It was found from her cousin, Herbert Wiley, of Oxford, MS, that Wiley’s family probably lived in South Carolina during her childhood, perhaps travelling between there and Oxford (as she was later buried in Oxford with some of her other family).

Her untold story shows more signs in the 1920s. Apparently, Wiley and Papa Charlie McCoy, one of the first ever recorded blues musicians from the early 1920s, had something of a relationship. Perhaps they met while Wiley worked in travelling medicine shows around Mississippi. Probably working as a musician throughout the 1920s, by 1930 Wiley and her recording partner, Elvie Thomas, recorded for Paramount in March 1930 and a year later in March 1931. Even Thomas never saw Wiley again after 1933. Luckily though, those recordings remain to give a sense of her unique playing style and haunting songs.

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