Ben Payton was born in Coila, Mississippi, a tiny town in the Hill Country east of the Delta. He lived with his family in Greenwood until he was a teenager in the 1960s, when his family followed the Great Migration north to Chicago.

In Chicago, Ben wound up being a part of the city’s hopping blues and jazz scenes, even getting an invitation to join the great jazz pianist Randy Weston’s group for an extended gig at a nightclub in Morocco.

By the late 1970s, Ben had put down the guitar and worked a factory job to support his family. But two decades later, he picked up the acoustic guitar again and moved home to Mississippi, settling down in Jackson, intent on studying the music of the state’s legendary blues players, such as Robert Johnson and Charley Patton.

And he continued to teach others about acoustic country blues and the role it plays in African American history until he died in 2020. He was never less than a classy and distinguished musician.

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