Cultural Percussionist

Howlin’ Wolf Day

Chester Arthur Burnett (June 10, 1910 – January 10, 1976), known as Howlin’ Wolf, was a Chicago blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player, originally from Mississippi. With a booming voice and imposing physical presence, he is one of the best-known Chicago blues artists. The musician and critic Cub Koda noted, “no one could match Howlin’ Wolf for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits.” Producer Sam Phillips recalled, “When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.'” Several of his songs, including “Smokestack Lightnin’“, “Killing Floor” and “Spoonful“, have become blues and blues rock standards. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 54 on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time“.

Burnett was born on June 10, 1910, in White Station, Mississippi, near West Point. He was given the name Chester Arthur, after Chester A. Arthur, the 21st President of the United States. His physique garnered him the nicknames “Big Foot Chester” and “Bull Cow” as a young man: he was 6 feet 3 inches (191 cm) tall and often weighed close to 300 pounds (136 kg). He explained the origin of the name Howlin’ Wolf: “I got that from my grandfather”, who would tell him stories about wolves in that part of the country and warn him that if he misbehaved the “howling wolves” would get him. The blues historian Paul Oliver wrote that Burnett once claimed to have been given his nickname by his idol Jimmie Rodgers.

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