We Say Goodbye to Sam Frazier Jr.
inArtist Storyon April 6, 2021
Music Maker lost a dear friend and partner artist, Sam Frazier Jr., on March 23.
I first heard of Sam when a package arrived at our office in 2015. One of Sam’s nieces had filled a manila envelope with a letter of praise for her favorite uncle, and posters from his music career over the years. His niece’s package also included photographs from his performances — her uncle, a large African American man, performing country music. Not the blues, not R&B (although Sam ventured into those genres in his career) — but country.
Sam had grown up in the blues tradition, because his mother ran a juke joint in Edgewater, Alabama — one that was frequented by the likes of blues legends Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Reed, and Slim Harpo, who taught young Sam to play the harmonica. But Sam grew up loving country music as he much as he loved the blues. Listening to the “Grand Ole Opry” on the radio, he came to love the music of Hank Williams and other country greats.
His first venture into the music business came in the late 1960s when he and his sister, who played under the moniker Carolyn & Sam, traveled to New York City to record an R&B single, “Congratulations Honey.” The tune only got moderate airplay in New York, and the Fraziers quickly came home to Birmingham, Alabama.
Sam was working in a car dealership in Birmingham when a salesman on the lot introduced him to a country musician named Eddie Burns. Eddie was the host of WBRC-TV’s long-running show called the “The Country Boy Eddie Show.” At about the same time, the great African American country artist Charley Pride was breaking through on the country airwaves and appearing on the “Grande Ole Opry.” So, when Eddie met Sam, he encouraged him to follow his love of country music. Soon thereafter, Sam became a regular on Eddie’s TV show.
I’ve followed the roots of African American music for more than 30 years, but by meeting and learning about Sam, it was like peeling back yet another layer of the onion. I learned about another community of Black musicians of whom I had known nothing. It’s a stunning thing to think about Sam Frazier Jr. — at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, living in a city known for its white supremacist violence — playing country music every Saturday night on a television show aimed squarely at a white audience.
How the musical culture of the South so freely hops across racial barriers will never cease to amaze me.
By the time we began working with Sam, he was in his early 70s, in ill health, battling against diabetes. We helped Sam record an amazing acoustic country album, “Cabbage Man,” that came out in 2017. We also helped Sam get regular gigs going in Birmingham, and he enjoyed a little renaissance late in his career.
Sam was an amazing man, one of those rare individuals who, no matter what life threw at him, responded with optimism. We will certainly miss him. He was one of a kind.
— Tim Duffy