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Blues History MailbagQ: Maybe you can help us. Do you have any information regarding next of kin for Walter Davis? He will be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame this year so I am just beginning to look for an appropriate representative to receive his plaque. Note that he died in St. Louis in 1963. Here is the bio the HOF committee provided me:

A: Performer: Walter Davis
One of the most popular and prolific blues recording artists of the 1930s, Walter Davis was born in Grenada, Mississippi, on March 1, 1912. He became a leading figure on the St. Louis blues scene, working alongside Roosevelt Sykes and Henry Townsend. Sykes was on the pianist on Davis’ early recordings; subsequent sessions featured Davis’ own idiosyncratic brand of piano. Although Walter Davis is not a name well known among today’s blues audiences, his songs of trouble and despair, as well as his double entendre humor, struck a resounding chord with blues buyers of the era: from 1930 to 1941, he recorded more than 160 sides, released on the Victor, Bluebird, Supertone, and Montgomery Ward labels.

Davis recorded again for RCA Victor and Bullet from 1946 to 1952. Among Davis’ notable recordings were Come Back Baby (a Top 10 R&B hit in 1955 when covered by Ray Charles), Angel Child (Top 10 in 1949 for Memphis Slim), 13 Highway (later recorded by Muddy Waters), Think You Need a Shot, Pet Cream Blues, Ashes in My Whiskey, Fallin’ Rain, and Tears Came Rolling Down; his songs and lyrics have also been reworked or adapted by B.B. King, J.B. Hutto, Fred McDowell, Jimmy McCracklin, Eddie Boyd, Champion Jack Dupree, Dave Ray & Tony Glover, and others. In his final years, Davis became a preacher in St. Louis. He died on October 22, 1963.

Walter Davis is one of the many St Louis pianists who were immensely popular in their time, but when research began into the blues these legends were somewhat discounted.
Although rediscovered and available, they were not thoroughly interviewed, so the details that we have about them are sparse and often unconfirmed.

I think that overall the biography is accurate except that the date of birth is Mar 1, 1901 (from Charlie O'Brien's personal interview notes) and the death date is uncertain. The death date of Oct 22, 1963 is from an unconfirmed death certificate. Apparently, in St Louis at that time, the name "Walter Davis" is (or was) rather common.

I am currently trying to confirm a grave and death date. It has been printed that Davis was from Mississippi, but I'm not sure. He did say once that his mother lived in New Madrid, in the Missouri bootheel. I have seen it printed that Davis became a preacher, but I have found no hard evidence of that. The information holds that Davis was a preacher in Hannibal, Missouri (two hours north of St Louis).

I am uncertain of this because Davis was not interested in travelling when his music was selling (from Henry Townsend who said that Davis was shy and did not go on the road) and by the 1960s he had suffered the stroke that caused him to stop playing music. It is certain that after his stroke, Davis managed at least two cheap hotels in St Louis, a relatively easy job for a disabled man.

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