Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup was a blues singer and guitarist who influenced not only blues musicians but also the development of rock and roll. Arthur Crudup was born in Forest, Mississippi, on 25 August 1905. His mother, Minnie Crudup, was a musician. As a boy, Arthur, nicknamed “Big Boy” because of his large stature, sang in the church choir. Crudup did not pick up a guitar until he was thirty-two years old, and he soon began playing in juke joints and on street corners, earning small amounts of money. He sang with the Harmonizing Four gospel quartet, which moved to Chicago in 1941. He again tried to earn a living playing the blues but soon found himself broke and homeless. His big break came when talent scout Lester Melrose heard Crudup performing on a street corner and invited him to a party at bluesman Tampa Red’s house. Audience members, including Lonnie Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy, were impressed enough that Melrose arranged a contract for Crudup with RCA Victor. Over the next fifteen years Crudup recorded more than eighty songs for RCA, but his lack of business acumen meant that he found himself locked into contracts that gave most of the royalties for his songs to the record company. Moreover, public musical tastes began shifting away from country blues sounds and toward more polished urban, Chicago-style blues and rock and roll. Crudup returned to Mississippi in the late 1940s, disenchanted with the music business, and continued to perform until 1956. He earned his living mostly through farm work, though he recorded a few sides for smaller labels such as Trumpet (1952), Champion (ca. 1952), Ace (1953), and Groove (1953–54), generally under pseudonyms such as Art Crudux, Arthur Crump, and Elmer James.
Elvis Presley was enamored with Crudup’s music and recorded versions of his songs “That’s All Right” (1954), “My Baby Left Me” (1956), and “So Glad You’re Mine” (1956), earning Crudup credit as the Father of Rock and Roll. Though Presley’s recordings of these songs helped launch him as an international superstar and garnered him substantial wealth, Crudup received little attention or money.
In the late 1960s Bob Koester of Delmark Records recorded Crudup and arranged for promoter-manager-photographer Dick Waterman to help get Crudup onto the festival circuit. He began touring the United States and Europe, performing until his death from a stroke on 28 March 1974 in Nassawadox, Virginia. Waterman also managed to get some past royalties paid to Crudup’s estate.
- Sheldon Harris, Blues Who’s Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers (1981)
- Gérard Herzhaft, Paul Harris, Jerry Haussler, and Anton J. Mikofsky, Encyclopedia of the Blues (1997)
- Dick Waterman, Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive (2003)