From Texas Hobo to Carnegie Hall

From hobo to Carnegie Hall


Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins, country blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, died on this day, January 30, 1982 at the age of 69.

Hopkins “was a ferocious electric stylist in the fifties,” wrote Rolling Stone magazine, “best known for his nimble acoustic fingerpicking during the sixties folk-blues revival. He seemed to be making it up as he went along, and often was.”

Hopkins was born in Centerville, Texas, and grew up with the sound of blues. When he was eight years old he met Blind Lemon Jefferson at a church picnic in Buffalo, Texas. That day, Hopkins recalled, he felt the blues was “in him.”

Hopkins dropped out of school and worked on a plantation. “I did a little plowin’, chopped a li’l cotton, pulled a li’l corn. I did a little of it all.”


Like many blues singers of that time he played picnics and dances at local farms on Friday and Saturday nights. He became a hobo, bumming around Texas and strumming his  guitar.

By the late 1950s his impressive output of high-quality recordings gained him a dedicated following among African-Americans and blues aficionados.

Hopkins was “the embodiment of the jazz-and-poetry spirit, representing its ancient form in the single creator whose words and music are one act,” wrote musicologist Robert “Mack” McCormick. 


On October 14, 1960, Lightnin’ Hopkins made his debut at New York’s iconic Carnegie Hall alongside Joan Baez and Pete Seeger.

Back to the front page