Born in 1915, Johnny Shines lived one of the storied lives of the blues. After a youth in and around Memphis, Shines picked up a guitar in his teens. While an early influence was Howlin' Wolf, Shines began developing his own sound as he traveled the country with Robert Johnson, fabled "Father of the Delta Blues." Eventually, Shines followed the trail of the Great Migration north to Chicago. There he became a pioneer of the new post-war electric sound, but recordings for Columbia, Chess, and J.O.B. Records either went unissued or received a lukewarm commercial reception. By the late 1950s, he'd gone into musical retirement. Coaxed back into the recording studio in 1965, Shines finally found a dedicated audience in the spillover of "the Blues Revival." In 1969, he moved to a small-town outside Tuscaloosa, AL. While expanding his base of operations in the South, including participating in the activities of the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project, Shines continued to record frequently and tour the world. In 1980, Shines suffered a stroke that affected his guitar playing, but he soldiered on, assuming the mantle of international dignitary of the blues. Shines died in 1992, just days before his 77th birthday.
Born in 1929, Mable Hillery grew up absorbing the folk traditions of her rural Georgia community. In 1950, she married Will Adams, with whom she'd have six children. Her life as a professional musician began in 1960. After moving to the Georgia Sea Islands, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax came through town and invited her to participate in a documentary. She was soon a member of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, with whom she sang through 1966. After going solo, she became deeply involved with the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project, which used music as a form of activism. Eventually moving to Harlem, Hillery became an educator, integrating Southern folk culture into elementary curriculum. In 1967, she toured the UK and made her only solo recording. Her commitments to performing, education, and activism continued until her untimely death in 1976.