Charley Patton (died April 28, 1934), also known as Charlie Patton, was an American Delta blues musician. He is considered by many to be the "Father of the Delta Blues", and is credited with creating an enduring body of American music and personally inspiring just about every Delta blues man (Palmer, 1995). Musicologist Robert Palmer considers him among the most important musicians that America produced in the twentieth century. Many sources, including musical releases and his gravestone, spell his name "Charley" even though the musician himself spelled his name "Charlie".
Patton's parentage and race have been the subject of debate. Although born to Bill and Annie Patton, locally he was regarded as having been fathered by former slave Henderson Chatmon, many of whose other children also became popular Delta musicians both as solo acts and as members of groups such as the Mississippi Sheiks. Biographer John Fahey describes Patton as having "light skin and Caucasian features." Though Patton was considered African-American, because of his light complexion there have been rumors that he was Mexican, or possibly a full-blood Cherokee, a theory endorsed by Howlin' Wolf. In actuality, Patton was a mix of white, black, and Cherokee (one of his grandmothers was a full-blooded Cherokee). Patton himself sang in "Down the Dirt Road Blues" of having gone to "the Nation" and "the Territo'"; meaning the Cherokee Nation portion of the Indian Territory (which became part of the state of Oklahomain 1907), where a number of Black Indians tried unsuccessfully to claim a place on the tribal rolls and thereby obtain land.
Robert Palmer describes Patton as a "jack-of all-trades bluesman" who played "deep blues, white hillbilly songs, nineteenth-century ballads, and other varieties of black and white country dance music with equal facility". He was extremely popular across the Southern United States and also performed annually inChicago, Illinois and, in 1934, New York City. In contrast to the itinerant wandering of most blues musicians of his time, Patton played scheduled engagements at plantations and taverns. Long before Jimi Hendrix impressed audiences with flashy guitar playing, Patton gained notoriety for his showmanship, often playing with the guitar down on his knees, behind his head, or behind his back. Although Patton was a small man at about 5 foot 5, his gravelly voice was rumored to have been loud enough to carry 500 yards without amplification. Patton was a major influence on the singing style of his young friend Chester Burnett, who went on to gain fame in Chicago as Howlin' Wolf.
Patton settled in Holly Ridge, Mississippi with his common-law wife and recording partner Bertha Lee in 1933. He died on the Heathman-Dedham plantation near Indianola on April 28, 1934 and is buried in Holly Ridge (both towns are located in Sunflower County). Patton's death certificate states that he died of a mitral valve disorder. Bertha Lee is not mentioned on the certificate, the only informant listed being one Willie Calvin. Patton's death was not reported in the newspapers.
A memorial headstone was erected on Patton's grave (the location of which was identified by the cemetery caretaker C. Howard who claimed to have been present at the burial) paid for by musician John Fogerty through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund in July 1990. The spelling of Patton's name was dictated by Jim O'Neal, who also composed the Patton epitaph.
The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band internationally touring American country blues recording/touring artists, fronted by Kentucky Colonel, The Reverend Peyton, produced a tribute recording to Charley Patton: Peyton on Patton, released July 19, 2011. The album entered the Billboard Blues Album chart at No. 7.
French singer-songwriter Francis Cabrel refers to Charley Patton in the song "Cent Ans de Plus" on his 1999 album Hors-Saison.
Indie rock band Gomez recorded a song on their 2006 release How We Operate, entitled "Charley Patton Songs".
There is a picture of Charley Patton in the recording studio used for The White Stripes' album Icky Thump. It can be seen in the background of the short demo video on their website
Jule Brown recorded an updated arrangement of Patton's "Green River Blues", on their 2006 release Smoke and Mirrors.