“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Horn Lake in DeSoto County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)

Big Walter Horton

Big Walter Horton Marker image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, April 2, 2021
1. Big Walter Horton Marker
Inscription.  Blues harmonica virtuoso Big Walter Horton was renowned for his innovative contributions to the music of Memphis and Chicago. Horton was born in Horn Lake on April 6, 1918, and began his career as a child working for tips on the streets of Memphis. He performed and recorded with Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Willie Dixon, Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Winter, and many others. His technique and tone continue to be studied and emulated by harmonica players around the world.

Walter Horton was heralded as one of the most brilliant and creative musicians ever to play the harmonica. Born on a plantation near this site, as a child he blew into tin cans to create sounds. His birth date is usually cited as April 6, 1918, although some sources give the year as 1917 or 1921. Nicknamed “Shakey” due to nystagmus, an affliction related to eye movement that can result in involuntary head shaking and learning disabilities, Horton quit school in the first grade. He made his way doing odd jobs and playing harmonica with local veterans such as Jack Kelly, Garfield Akers, and Little Buddy Doyle as well as young friends Johnny Shines,

Big Walter Horton Marker (reverse) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, April 2, 2021
2. Big Walter Horton Marker (reverse)
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Floyd Jones, and Honeyboy Edwards. They performed in Church Park, Handy Park, hotel lobbies, and anywhere else they could earn tips, including nearby areas of Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee.

Horton began recording for legendary Memphis producer Sam Phillips in 1951. The first record on Phillips’s Sun label in 1952 was assigned to “Jackie Boy and Little Walter” (Jack Kelly and Horton). While Sun never officially released the Kelly-Horton disc, other Horton tracks from Phillips’s studio appeared on the Modern and RPM labels under the name of “Mumbles.” On later recordings, Walter was usually billed as “Shakey Horton” or “Big Walter.”

Horton joined the Muddy Waters band in Chicago in 1953. Chicago’s foremost blues producer/ songwriter, Willie Dixon, who called Horton “the greatest harmonica player in the world,” began recording him for labels including States, Cobra, and Argo, and hired him to play harmonica on sessions by Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, Jimmy Rogers, Sunnyland Slim, and others. Horton also toured and recorded with Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars, and played on the Fleetwood Mac album Blues Jam in Chicago. Full albums of his work appeared on several labels, including Alligator, Chess, and Blind Pig. Horton toured internationally, but in Chicago most of his work was in small clubs.

Closeup of photos on reverse. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, April 2, 2021
3. Closeup of photos on reverse.
Click on photo to enlarger.
He also resumed playing the streets for tips at Chicago’s Maxwell Street market.

Horton’s playing–sometimes powerful and dramatic, other times delicate and sensitive–left an influence on harmonica masters Little Walter (Jacobs) and Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller) and on the generations to follow. His shy, gentle nature, often hidden beneath a gruff or glum exterior, endeared him to many. The uplifting beauty of Horton’s music contrasted with the sorrows and tragedies of his personal life. He died of heart failure on December 8, 1981. His death certificate also cited acute alcoholism. Horton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1982.
Erected 2008 by the Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 44.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African AmericansArts, Letters, MusicEntertainment. In addition, it is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail 🎶 series list. A significant historical date for this entry is April 6, 1918.
Location. 34° 57.697′ N, 90° 1.653′ W. Marker is in Horn Lake, Mississippi, in DeSoto County. Marker is on Center Street East south of Goodman Road (State Route 302), on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Horn Lake MS 38637, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 3 miles of this marker, measured as

Looking south on Center Street. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, April 2, 2021
4. Looking south on Center Street.
the crow flies. Albert King (approx. 2.6 miles away); Club Ebony (approx. 2.6 miles away); Po' Monkey's (approx. 2.6 miles away); Charley Patton (approx. 2.6 miles away); Hubert Sumlin (approx. 2.6 miles away); The Peavine Branch (approx. 2.7 miles away); Birthplace of the Blues? (approx. 2.7 miles away); Documenting the Blues (approx. 2.7 miles away).
Also see . . .  Wikipedia article & discography for Big Walter Horton. (Submitted on April 9, 2021, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
The view north towards Goodman Rd (MS-302). image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, April 2, 2021
5. The view north towards Goodman Rd (MS-302).
Credits. This page was last revised on April 9, 2021. It was originally submitted on April 9, 2021, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 35 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on April 9, 2021, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.

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May. 11, 2021