Florida Folklife Program
Folk Heritage Awards Recipient: Willie James
Willie JamesCourtesy of Florida State Archives/Florida Folkife Program Collection. Photo by Nancy Nusz.
Willie James (1933 - ) - 1999 Florida Folk Heritage Award
“Blind” Willie James is known for his inspiring versions of blues and gospel songs. James was born blind and was then orphaned in 1933. He grew up singing gospel music in church near his home in Live Oak, Florida. While a student at the Florida School for the Blind in St. Augustine, he began playing the piano. As an adult, James ran a newsstand in Palmetto and continued playing in area churches. In 1975 he moved to St. Petersburg and began performing with the Blind Boys of Alabama, but his interest soon turned to the blues. Encouraged by the late bluesman Little Juke, James began performing in clubs and at festivals. James has played on the Florida blues circuit for over twenty years. He has collaborated with a variety of musicians, including Diamond Tooth Mary McClain and, more recently, Allen Moffat.