If you’re feeling a bit blue today, there’s good reason for it. Virginia bluesman “Bowling Green” John Cephas passed away this morning. He was 78.
Wrote his agent, Piedmont Talent’s Steve Hecht:
“John Cephas was a very generous man. He gave much of himself to his fans and students. He took so much care to make sure that he was always there for those who loved him. He’d share everything with his friends and family. I always wanted to go fishing with him.”
A descendent of slaves, Cephas was born in Washington, D.C. in 1930, and acquired his “Bowling Green” moniker from his childhood days in Bowling Green, Virginia. Cephas discovered gospel as a child, but soon learned the blues from a guitar-playing aunt while his grandfather taught him about eastern Virginia folklore. Cephas’ cousin, David Taleofero, is credited with teaching him the Piedmont blues style of alternating thumb-and-picking method of guitar.
Cephas joined the Capitol Harmonizers and toured on the gospel circuit while still a young man. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, Cephas tried several career choices ranging from gospel singer to fisherman. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Cephas started to attract a following through his music.
Cephas met harmonica player Phil Wiggins in 1977. As Cephas & Wiggins they toured all over the world.
Along with his musical accomplishments, Cephas also served on the Executive Committee of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, and is the founder of the Washington, D.C., Blues Society. The bluesman also received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1989.
“More than anything else, I would like to see a revival of country blues by more young people … more people going to concerts, learning to play the music,” Cephas once said. “That’s why I stay in the field of traditional music. I don’t want it to die.”