Blind Alfred Reed (June 15, 1880 – January 17, 1956) was an American folk, country, and old-time musician and singer-songwriter. He was one of the artists who recorded at the Bristol Sessions in 1927, alongside more famous names such as Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family. He played the fiddle along with his son Arville, who played the guitar.
Alfred was born completely blind, in Floyd County, Virginia, being the second blind child born to Riley & Charlotte (Akers) Reed. [nb 1] He was raised in a very conservative family, the son of a farm laborer, and he acquired a violin at a young age. Later, he began performing at county fairs, in country schoolhouses, for political rallies, and in churches.[nb 1][nb 2] He even played on street corners for tips.[nb 1] He used to sell out printed copies of his compositions for ten cents each.[nb 3] This is about all the information that can be gathered from him in his early life, as most of the events during this time were not written down nor talked about much in his later years.
While playing during a convention in 1927, Ralph Peer, who was the director of Bristol Sessions, heard Reed playing "The Wreck of the Virginian", and asked him if he wanted to make some recordings. Reed consented, and he recorded four songs, one solo, "The Wreck of the Virginian", and three with Arville's guitar accompaniment: "I Mean to Live for Jesus", "You Must Unload", and "Walking in the Way with Jesus". After the Bristol Sessions, Reed kept recording until 1929, which was the year of his most famous song's release "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?".
After 1929, he stopped recording and lived out the rest of his life mostly in the Princeton area in Mercer County, West Virginia.[nb 1] Reed continued to perform locally until 1937 when a statute was passed prohibiting blind street musicians.[nb 4] In addition to being recording artist and a musician, he also served as a lay preacher Methodist church minister.[nb 3] In 1956, Reed died, supposedly of starvation. He is buried in Elgood, West Virginia.
Reed's lyrics, all of which he composed himself, were ostensibly very conservative, but always were presented with a sense of humor; for example "Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls?" was an over-the-top commentary against women's hair style fashion of the 1920s, in which women who wore a shingle-bob were instructed to "ask Jesus to forgive" their hair style. More than half of the songs he recorded were religious or political or spoke out against society's ills. Because of his social commentary, which was somewhat uncommon then, some people today consider Reed an early "protest" singer.
In 2007, Blind Alfred Reed was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, alongside other famous musicians from West Virginia. Also in 2007, a tribute album to Blind Alfred, named for one of his songs, was released. Always Lift Him Up: A Tribute to Blind Alfred Reed features nineteen of Reed's most famous songs, recorded by artists from West Virginia, such as Little Jimmy Dickens, Tim O'Brien and Ann Magnuson.
|Matrix||Title||Record #||Recording date|
|39725||"The Wreck of the Virginian"||Victor 20836||July 28, 1927|
|39726||"I Mean To Live For Jesus"||Victor 20939||July 28, 1927|
|39727||"You Must Unload"||Victor 20939||July 28, 1927|
|39728||"Walking In the Way With Jesus"||Victor 20836||July 28, 1927|
|40790||"Explosion In the Fairmount Mines"||Victor 21191||December 19, 1927|
|40791||"Fate of Chris Lively and Wife"||Victor 21533||December 19, 1927|
|40792||"Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls?"||Victor 21360||December 19, 1927|
|40793||"Always Lift Him Up and Never Knock Him Down"||Victor 21360||December 19, 1927|
|40794||"The Prayer of the Drunkard's Little Girl"||Victor 21191||December 19, 1927|
|57571||"Woman's Been After Man Ever Since"||Victor V-40196||December 3, 1929|
|57572||"Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls? - No.2"||Victor V-40196||December 3, 1929|
|57573||"There'll Be No Distinction There"||Victor 23550||December 3, 1929|
|57574||"We've Just Got To Have 'Em, That's All"||Victor V-40290||December 3, 1929|
|57575||"Beware"||Victor 23550||December 3, 1929|
|57576||"The Railroader"||Unissued||December 3, 1929|
|57742||"The Old Fashioned Cottage"||Victor 23650||December 4, 1929|
|57743||"How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live"||Victor V-40236||December 4, 1929|
|57744||"Black and Blue Blues"||Victor V-40290||December 4, 1929|
|57745||"Bonnie Little Girl"||Unissued||December 4, 1929|
|57746||"You'll Miss Me"||Victor 23650||December 4, 1929|
|57747||"Money Cravin' Folks||Victor V-40236||December 4, 1929|