B lind Willie McTell grew up in the southern end of McDuffie County and later became one of the greatest blues musicians and singers in American history.
Today, the late Mr. McTell is honored by those who relished his music with an annual event called Blind Willie Blues Festival. It is held on the second Saturday of May every year in a large open field, located off Stagecoach Road near Thomson. The festival always lures thousands of blues enthusiasts from throughout the Southeast to McDuffie County -- where the black artist was born and called home.
Several family members of Mr. McTell, who was born May 5, 1901 under the name of Willie Samuel McTell, still live in McDuffie County.
One of them is Teddy Jackson, a retired special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and now an investigator with the Louisville Police Department in Louisville, Ga.
Mr. Jackson recently took a reporter on a tour of where Blind Willie McTell grew up in the Happy Valley community of McDuffie County -- just a short distance from neighboring Warren County.
"It's a fascinating story -- the journey that Blind Willie traveled in life," said Mr. Jackson, noting that Mr. McTell was originally thought of as "a no-body."
Even though Mr. McTell, who also was known by the name Blind Duggy , according to Mr. Jackson, has been deceased since Aug. 19, 1959, he is today more famous than he ever was alive.
Buried at Jones Grove Baptist Church in McDuffie County, the anniversary of his death is approaching.
"People classified him, basically, as a nobody back when he performed with his guitar and sang under an Oak tree in the Happy Valley community, near the intersection of Mount Pleasant and Sand Hill roads," said Mr. Jackson.
At that time, Blind Willie, as he also was referred, played for large groups of people who gathered to drink alcoholic beverages outside a juke-joint on property owned by Mr. Jackson's uncle, Eddie "Borat" McTier and his aunt, Hazel Samuels McTier.
Back then, McDuffie County was considered a "dry county," meaning that it was illegal for booze to be sold.
"Blind Duggy would play under the tree and people would give him change," said Mr. Jackson, pointing out that his mother, the late Annie Samuels Jackson, said he could play "really well."
People came for miles and miles around to hear him perform.
Today the roads leading to that old property are paved, but back then they were dirt.
"When I was a little boy growing up in the Happy Valley community, I rode my bicycle all around where Blind Duggy used to walk and sing," said Mr. Jackson.
While touring that area, Mr. Jackson described the setting as being like a reincarnation of Blind Duggy's life.
"It's like a reincarnation of him from the grave," said Mr. Jackson.
In 2002, an English author by the name of Michael Gray wrote a book about the famous blues singer. The book is entitled, Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes -- In Search of Blind Willie McTell. The book can be purchased at all major book retail stores.
Mr. Jackson and several of his relatives and friends are quoted in the book.
One of the most interesting things about Blind Duggy "was the fact that he lived in an era where blacks didn't stand a chance of succeeding very much. All they knew back then was that they had their place. And they knew where that place was."
If Blind Willie still was alive today, he would be as big a name as two other great blues musicians, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. "I think he would have been just as big as they are in the world of blues music," said Mr. Jackson.
Blind Willie was known to walk many places he went. He also traveled by train, often times leaving from the historic Thomson Depot. He would travel as far as to New York, Atlanta and Milledgeville. Born around Little Briar Creek, Blind Willie moved away with his mother to Statesboro when he was 10. It was there that he began learning to play the guitar and sing.
Through the years, Blind Willie came back to McDuffie County for frequent visits, playing for relatives, friends and others.