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Beverly “Guitar” Watkins (1939–2019), unsung blues guitar legend

by Linnea Crowther

Beverly “Guitar” Watkins was an unsung blues guitar legend known for her attacking playing style. She was said to play like Jimi Hendrix (playing behind her head) and Pete Townsend, and influenced many musicians including John Lennon. Though she started playing the guitar at a young age and played with James Brown and Ray Charles, she achieved greater recognition much later. After some down years in music, she was working various odd jobs, until she became a regular on Atlanta’s blues scene in the 1980s. The Music Maker Relief Foundation set her up on tour with Koko Taylor in 1998 and released her first album at the age of 60. She continued playing live until she suffered a stroke in July 2019.

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Died: Tuesday, October 1, 2019 (Who else died on October 1?)


Details of death: Died of complications following a stroke at 80.

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On the reaction of people seeing a woman play guitar like she did: “I was young and mens would come up and say, ‘Hmm, I ain’t never seen no woman play like you.’ And I had a lot of them then say, ‘Where did you learn how to play like that?’ and I’d say, ‘Jesus.’” —Interview with Living Blues

What they said about her: “When Beverly performed, she moved people, but especially young women and girls. Guitar playing is seen as a macho kind of thing, so when a woman gets up there and plays, like, amazing. She rocked harder than a man, and that was inspiring.” —Blues musician Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck told the Atlanta Journal Constitution

“Legendary Atlanta Blues Musician Beverly ‘Guitar’ Watkins passed away yesterday. Proving that rock divas are timeless, she released her first album ‘Back in Business’ at age 60. A true SHERO, we will always appreciate the Queen of Blues Guitar performing for our Campers.” —Chattanooga Girls Rock

Full obituary: Atlanta Journal Constitution

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