Home of the Live Music Calendar Follow STLBlues on Twitter Follow STLBlues on Facebook Home of the Live Music Calendar Live Music Is Better, Book It Here!! Live music is better, book yours now!
John Cephas Passes

“Bowling Green” John CephasJohn Cephas passed away at his home Wednesday, March 4. He died of natural causes. He had retired from live performance very recently due to illness. He was the recipient of the Library of Virginia's 2009 African American Trailblazers in Virginia History award just last week. It is reported that the award meant so much to him. It was one of many awards John Cephas had received of the course of his career. He was 79.

“Bowling Green” John Cephas was born in Washington, D.C., in 1930 into a deeply religious family. He took his nickname from Bowling Green, Virginia, where he was raised. His first taste of music was Gospel, but Blues soon became his calling. His grandfather taught him the folklore of eastern Virginia, where his ancestors had toiled as slaves, and Cephas learned about Blues from a guitar-playing aunt. But it was his cousin, David Taleofero, who taught him much of what he plays—the alternating thumb-and-finger picking style that characterizes Piedmont Blues.

After learning to play the alternating thumb and fingerpicking style, Cephas began emulating the records he heard. By the age of nine he was playing for weekend gatherings with family and friends. Music from the Ragtime era and early Piedmont artists such as Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Tampa Red were all influences.

As a young man, Cephas joined the Capitol Harmonizers and toured on the Gospel circuit. After a stint in the Army during the Korean War, he returned to the United States and went through a variety of jobs that included professional Gospel singer, carpenter, and Atlantic fisherman. By the 1960s, Cephas was starting to make a living from his music and, since forming a duo with Phil Wiggins in 1977 they have performed all over the world, serving as an ambassador of this singular American art form.

Among his many endeavors, John served on the Executive Committee of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, and testified before congressional committees. He was also a founder of the Washington, D.C. Blues Society.

“More than anything else,” says John, “I would like to see a revival of country Blues by more young people… more people going to concerts, learning to play the music. That’s why I stay in the field of traditional music. I don’t want it to die.”

Cephas received the coveted National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1989. These fellowships recognize those who preserve cultural legacies in music, dance, and crafts.

Steve Hecht of Piedmont Talent said of his friend, “John Cephas was a very generous man. He gave much of himself to his fans and students. He took so much care to make sure that he was always there for those who loved him. He’d share everything with his friends and family. I always wanted to go fishing with him.”

BluesWax Publisher Chip Eagle said, “John Cephas was special, as was his music. He was loved by the Blues Community and far beyond. The space he leaves cannot be filled, but it will always be filled with the wonderful music he left us. It is up to all of us to carry on his dream that the traditional music he loved live on. And it will. Thank you, John. You gave us so much to remember.”

 Live Music Calendar | Send Blues News | © STLBlues 2000 | Privacy Policy