Big Joe Shelton was born in the Black Prairie region of northeast Mississippi. Growing up in a small Mississippi town he was exposed to an African-American culture which still strongly reflected that of the early part of the twentieth century. He attended tent minstrel shows, bar-b-que picnics and heard street musicians performing authentic traditional blues. The Black Belt region is also the birthplace of blues legends Howlin’ Wolf, Bukka White and Big Joe Williams. As a young man he was fortunate in befriending Williams and this association greatly influenced his musical sensibilities.
As a child Big Joe sang in church and grammar school choirs. In his teens he began playing the harmonica and guitar. Songwriting soon followed and he found he had a wealth of experiences from which to draw. In the mid seventies he moved to Chicago and experienced the urban blues scene first hand. From Maxwell Street to the south side he sopped up the blues gravy served by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and many others.
He is a member of the Mississippi Arts Commission “Artist Roster” (http://www.arts.state.ms.us/artist-roster/index.php) and “Folk Arts / Folk Life Directory” (http://www.arts.state.ms.us/special-projects/folklife.php) and was honored by being included on the “Columbus / Catfish Alley” Mississippi Blues Trail Marker (http://www.msbluestrail.org/commission.html)
Big Joe has performed at numerous festivals and clubs throughout the southeastern United States including: King Biscuit Blues Festival, Howlin’ Wolf Memorial Blues Festival, Freedom Creek Blues Festival, Ground Zero Blues Club, and the Beal Street Mess Around. He has also toured England, France, Belgium, Bulgaria and the Netherlands.
He has played with blues legends Big Joe Williams, Furry Lewis, Son Thomas, Junior Kimbrough, Fenton Robinson, Living Blues 2003 “Artist Of The Year” Willie King, BMA Award nominees Blind Mississippi Morris, R. L. Burnside and Johnny Rawls as well as Daniel “Slick” Ballinger, the 2007 BMA” Best New Artist” honoree.
Among his many contributions toward perpetuation of the blues is his involvement with the Jazz Foundation of America and the Howlin’ Wolf Blues Societies “blues in the school” educational programs as well as performing in area personal care homes for the elderly.