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William McKinley Gillum (September 11, 1904 – March 29, 1966), known as Jazz Gillum, was an American blues harmonica player.

He was born in Indianola, Mississippi. After running away from home at the age of seven, Gillum spent the next few years in Charleston, Mississippi, working and playing for tips on local street corners. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1923, meeting up with the guitarist, Big Bill Broonzy. The duo started working club dates around the city and, by 1934, Gillum started recording for both ARC and Bluebird Records.

He appeared on many of the highly popular "Bluebird beat" recordings produced by Lester Melrose in the 1930s and 1940s, under his own name and as a sideman. Gillum was the first to record the blues classic "Key to the Highway" (featuring Broonzy on guitar) utilizing the now-standard melody and 8-bar blues arrangement. (The song had first been recorded a few months earlier by Charlie Segar, with a different melody and a 12-bar blues arrangement.) Gillum's version of the song was then covered by Broonzy a few months later, and has become the standard arrangement of this now-classic blues song. Gillum's records also resulted in some of the very earliest recordings of electric guitar in blues, when 16-year-old fledgling jazz guitarist George Barnes was featured on several songs on the 1938 Gillum session that produced "Reefer Headed Woman" and others.

Gillum joined the United States Army in 1942 and served until 1945. Gillum recorded an early version of "Look on Yonder Wall" (1946) with Big Maceo on piano, which was later popularized by Elmore James.[1]

However, after the Bluebird record label folded in the late 1940s he made few further recordings. His last, slightly sad recordings were on a couple of 1961 albums with Memphis Slim and the singer-guitarist Arbee Stidham on Folkways Records.

On 29 March 1966, during a street argument, he was shot in the head and was pronounced dead on arrival at Garfield Park Hospital in Chicago. He is buried at Restvale Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.


Gillum's daughter, Ardella Williams, is active as a blues singer in Chicago.

Genre Edit

Early Country Blues


Songs Edit


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