Aug. 16, 1938

Credit: Wikipedia

Legendary bluesman Robert Johnson lived mysteriously, and on this day, he died just as mysteriously at the age of 27. 

Born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, he reportedly went from a young man with little talent for playing guitar to one of the most influential guitarists of all time. (According to myth, he went to a Delta crossroads and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for playing guitar.) 

His cause of death remains a mystery to this day, and so does his burial. There are three headstones in the Mississippi Delta that mark where he may or may not be buried. He

Johnson recorded his first session in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio and reportedly sang while facing the wall. Despite the fact he recorded only 29 songs, his work became a huge influence, first in blues music, and then in the rock and roll that followed. 

In 1986, he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin are among the many who have cited his influence. Guitarist Eric Clapton has called Johnson “the most important blues singer that ever lived.”

More on this day


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.