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Reverend Gary Davis , also known as Blind Gary Davis (April 30, 1896 – May 5, 1972), was an African-American singer of blues and gospel music in addition to an acclaimed guitarist. His characteristic style when playing guitar, known as fingerpicking, influenced many later artists, both bluesmen and other styles; for example, in Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead), Bob Dylan, Keb Mo, Olabelle or Guy Davis; and, of course, in his own students in New York City: Stefan Grossman, Roy Book Binder, Woody Mann and Ernie Hawkins, among others.
Born in Laurens, South Carolina, Davis went blind at a very young age; seduced by the guitar, he developed a multiple phrasing style produced only with his thumb and forefinger, interpreting both ragtime and blues music as well as traditional and original melodies in harmony with four voices. In the mid-1920s he moved to Durham, North Carolina, one of the most important centers of African-American culture of that period; in Durham, Davis collaborated with a number of artists from the Piedmont blues music scene, such as Blind Boy Fuller and Bull City Red. In 1935, a store manager, famous for helping local artists, introduced Davis (together with Fuller and Red) to the record company American Record Company, beginning the real musical career of Davis. In this era he converted to Christianity; later he would be ordained a Baptist minister. Due to his conversion, and especially after his ordination, Davis became interested in gospel music.
In the 1940s, the blues music scene began to decline in Durham, so Davis moved to New York City. In the 1960s he began to be known as “the street singer of Harlem”, being “the” person to whom one had to go if someone wanted to learn to play the guitar. In his teaching role, Davis was extremely patient and understanding, making sure that his students learned and adapted their unique way of playing the guitar. The resurgence of folk in the 1960s relaunched his musical career, reaching its highest point in his performance at the Newport Folk Festival and the recording of the song “Samson & Delilah” by the group Peter, Paul and Mary; This song, also known as “If I Had My Way”, was originally a Blind Willie Johnson song that Davis popularized.
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