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Champion Jack Dupree

William Thomas Dupreee, best known as Champion Jack Dupree, birth date disputed, given as July 4, July 10, and July 23, in the years 1908, 1909, 1910. He died January 21, 1992.

Champion Jack Dupree was the embodiment of the New Orleans blues and boogie woogie pianist, a true barrelhouse[?] "professor". His father was from the Belgian Congo and his mother was a Creole of color and part Cherokee. He was orphaned at the age of 2 and sent to the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs (also the alma mater of Louis Armstrong).

He taught himself piano there and later apprenticed with Tuts Washington[?] and the legendary Drive'em Down, whom he called his "father" and from whom he learned "Junker's Blues". He was also "spy boy" for the Yellow Pochahantas tribe of Mardis Gras Indians[?] and soon began playing in barrelhouses, drinking establishments organized around barrels of booze.

As a young man he began his life of travelling, living in Chicago, where he worked with Georgia Tom and Indianapolis, Indiana, where he hooked up with Scrapper Blackwell[?] and Leroy Carr[?]. While he was always playing piano, he also worked as a cook, and in Detroit he met Joe Louis, who encouraged him to become a boxer. He ultimately fought in 107 bouts and winning Golden Gloves and other championships, and picking up the nickname Champion Jack, which he used the rest of his life.

He returned to Chicago at age 30 and joined a circle of recording artists, including Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red[?] who introduced him to legendary blues record producer Lester Melrose, who claimed composer credit and publishing on many of Dupree's songs.

Dupree's playing is almost all straight blues and boogie woogie, with no ballads or pop songs, not even blues ballads[?]. He was not a sophisticated musician or singer, but he had a wry and clever way with words: "Mama, move your false teeth, papa wanna scratch your gums." He sometimes sang as if he had a cleft palate and even recorded under the name Harelip Jack Dupree. This was an artistic conceit, as Dupree had excellent clear articulation, particularly for a blues singer.

He sang about life as he found it, singing about jail, drinking, drug addiction, although he himself was a light drinker and did not use other drugs. His "Junker's Blues" is still sung in New Orleans, and was also transmogrified by Fats Domino into his first hit "The Fat Man". Dupree's songs included not only gloomy topics, such as "TB Blues" and "Angola Blues" (about the infamous Louisiana prison farm, but also cheerful subjects like the "Dupree Shake Dance": "Come on, mama, on your hands and knees, do that shake dance as you please".

Dupree was also noted as a raconteur and transformed many of his stories into songs. "Big Leg Emma's" takes its place in the roots of rap music as the rhymed tale of a police raid on a barrelhouse.

Other cover versions of his songs have been done by Jerry Lee Lewis ("Shake Baby Shake"), and in later years he recorded with John Mayall, Mick Taylor[?], and Eric Clapton.

His career was interrupted by military service in World War II. He was a cook in the United States Navy and spent two years as a Japanese prisoner of war.

His biggest commercial success was "Walkin' the Blues", which he recorded as a duet with Mr. Bear[?]. This led to several national tours, and eventually to a European tour. Dupree moved to Europe permanently 1959, the first of many blues stars to make the move to a less racially prejudiced environment. He continued to record in Europe and also made many live appearances there, also still working as a cook specializing in New Orleans cuisine. He returned to the United States from time to time and appeared at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival[?]. He died in Hannover, Germany[?] of cancer.

Quotation

  • "When you open up a piano, you see freedom. Nobody can play the white keys and don't play the black keys. You got to mix all these keys together to make harmony. And that's what the whole world needs: Harmony."
I know you people, I know you glad you ain't one of me
I know you people glad, I know you glad you white and free
Oh yeah, white and free, oh, what will, what will become of me?
Oh I am begging, yes, I'm begging to be free.
"Death of Martin Luther King", recorded just after his assassination



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