A Tribute to Bluesman 'Little' Milton Campbell

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We pay tribute to "Little" Milton Campbell, the blues pioneer who died last week at the age of 71. He'll be buried in Southaven, Miss.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LITTLE MILTON CAMPBELL (Musician): (Singing) Oh, yeah...

GORDON: Funeral services for another music great. Bluesman Little Milton will be buried today in South Haven, Mississippi. The R&B pioneer helped define electric blues in the 1950s. Little Milton Campbell was known for his powerful voice and distinctive fusion of blues and R&B.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CAMPBELL: (Singing) When you're feeling low down, so far away from home, and the night is yours and yours all alone...

GORDON: Over a career spanning almost five decades, he recorded more than 30 albums and appeared on dozens more.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CAMPBELL: (Singing) Now you may not be with me, but your fragrance fills the room. Oh, just think of me, baby, 'cause I'll be thinking of you.

GORDON: Campbell was a child of the Mississippi Delta. His father, Big Milton, was a farmer and local blues musician. Little Milton picked up his first guitar at the age of 12. By his teens, he was impressing blues fans around Mississippi. Little Milton's recording career began when Ike Turner introduced him to Sam Phillips of Sun Records. By the late '50s, Little Milton had founded his own label, Bobbin Records.

(Soundbite "We're Gonna Make It")

Mr. CAMPBELL: (Singing) We may not have a cent to pay the rent, but we're going to make it. I know we will. We may have to eat beans every day, but we're going to make it. I know we will.

GORDON: Forty years ago, he recorded "We're Gonna Make It." That song became an anthem for the civil rights movement. It was his first number one hit. Over the years, Little Milton continued to tour and record, playing to sold-out crowds across the United States and Europe. In 2000, he received a Grammy nomination for his album "Feel It."

Burton Doss is a spokesman for Little Milton's most recent label, Malaco Records, and a friend. The bluesman's music inspired him to learn to play guitar.

Mr. BURTON DOSS (Spokesman, Malaco Records): He wrote on my guitar, `Go get 'em, tiger, Little Milton.' And every time that I pick it up and see where he's signed it, it just gives me a good feeling knowing kind of that he's there with me.

GORDON: Little Milton released his final album, "Think of Me," in May. He died in Memphis last week after recently suffering a stroke. He was 71 years old.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CAMPBELL: (Singing) Girl, you've got to believe it 'cause I'm tired of being misunderstood.

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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