Lillian Shedd McMurry

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The founder of the Trumpet Records label, producer Lillian Shedd McMurry, was a pivotal force behind the preservation of the Delta blues sound, helming the first-ever studio sessions from legends like…
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The founder of the Trumpet Records label, producer Lillian Shedd McMurry, was a pivotal force behind the preservation of the Delta blues sound, helming the first-ever studio sessions from legends like Sonny Boy Williamson and Elmore James. Born in 1921 in Purvis, MS, she was born into a strict Baptist family, and her earliest introduction to music was confined to singing church hymns; in the aftermath of the Depression, McMurry was forced to find work at age 13, and by the early '40s she was employed in Jackson as a state government secretary, studying law in her off-hours. She married furniture retailer Willard McMurry in 1945, and four years later, while cleaning out a hardware store her husband had recently purchased, McMurry stumbled on a cache of old blues 78s (the store had once housed a small music department); growing up a white southerner, she had never heard the region's indigenous blues sound before, but after one listen to a Wynonie Harris record, she was hooked.

McMurry immediately opened a music store of her own, dubbed Record Mart, where she stocked not only blues sides but also gospel and R&B selections; by 1950, the shop also housed a recording studio, with the earliest Trumpet sessions documenting performances by Jackson-area performers. Intrigued by tales of a harmonica wizard playing between movies at theaters across the Delta region, in late 1950, McMurry finally tracked down one Rice Miller, aka Sonny Boy Williamson; a 20-year veteran of the local blues scene as well as a regular guest on the King Biscuit Time radio program, Williamson was at the peak of his powers by the time he signed to Trumpet, and there he recorded a series of blues standards, including "Eyesight to the Blind," "Nine Below Zero," "Mr. Down Child," "Pontiac Blues," and "Mighty Long Time." McMurry not only produced these sessions but occasionally authored her star attraction's material, most notably his hit "Red Hot Kisses."

At the end of a Williamson session from 1951, McMurry surreptitiously recorded a performance by studio visitor Elmore James; the famed slide guitarist's lone Trumpet side, "Dust My Broom," became a surprise R&B Top Ten hit and remains one of the classic performances of its era. Around that same time, the Trumpet roster swelled with the additions of artists including Big Joe Williams, Willie Love, and Clayton Love; their session dates were all produced under McMurry's meticulous care, and distinguished by only the finest sidemen -- B.B. King, Little Milton Campbell, and Joe Willie Wilkins all earned early exposure playing on the label's sessions. Trumpet also gained renown for McMurry's adamant refusal to follow the Jackson Musicians Union's segregationist dictates of the period, and her sessions freely mixed white and black performers together.

While the blues remained Trumpet's bread-and-butter, McMurry also expanded into gospel, helming sessions for the Southern Sons, the Carolina Kings of Harmony, and other groups; other label signings included Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Jerry McCain, and rockabilly cat Lucky Joe Almond. Ultimately, however, Trumpet found itself increasingly unable to compete against the majors, and the company folded in 1955. Always a scrupulous businesswoman, McMurry not only paid off all of the label's debts during the years which followed, but also continued paying her former artists royalties as their Trumpet material was re-released. (Her devotion to the label's roster extended far beyond the music itself -- when Williamson died in 1965, McMurry paid for his tombstone.) Her pioneering work was recognized in 1998 when she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame; sadly, McMurry died of a massive heart attack on March 28 of the following year. She was 77.