|Big Boy Henry|
|Richard Leslie Henry|
May 26, 1921|
Beaufort, Carteret County, North Carolina, United States
|Died||December 5, 2004
Beaufort, North Carolina, United States
|Guitarist, singer, songwriter|
|Instruments||Guitar, human voice|
|Labels||Audio Arts, Swingmaster, Hometown, Erwin, New Moon, Music Maker|
Richard Leslie Henry (born May 26, 1921 - December 5, 2004), better known as Big Boy Henry, was an American Piedmont blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. His most notable recording was "Mr. President", a protest against cuts in social welfare undertaken by President Ronald Reagan. It won Henry a W. C. Handy Award.
Henry was born in Beaufort, Carteret County, North Carolina. He grew up in New Bern, near the North Carolina coast, in the 1920s and 1930s There he befriended the country blues musician Fred Miller, and first as Miller's apprentice and later as his vocalist, Henry earned a modest living performing at local juke joints and fish suppers.
Miller later relocated to New York, and Henry made occasional trips there for joint performances. In New York, Henry met Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and in 1951 he accompanied the duo on some recordings for the producer Bob Shad. The recordings were not released, and a dejected Henry returned to the Carolinas, where worked on fishing and oystering crews throughout most of the 1950s and 1960s. During this period he also ran a grocery store and was a part-time preacher.
In 1971, he moved back to Beaufort, where to his surprise younger musicians championed his musical talent. He was soon performing again and writing many new songs, accompanying himself on his Gibson guitar. In later years arthritis affected his guitar playing, so he often improvised, presenting a challenge to the local musicians backing him.
Henry's song "Mr. President", recorded in Greenville, North Carolina, in the early 1980s for Audio Arts Records, was a protest against cuts in social welfare undertaken by President Ronald Reagan. It won Henry a W. C. Handy Award in 1983. In 1995, he received the North Carolina Arts Council Heritage Award. He recorded a number of self-released albums in the 1980s and 1990s, often on cassette on his own Hometown Records label, which reached only a limited audience. He became a respected figure locally, mainly because of his generous nature and support of other musicians. Henry also attempted to preserve and record chanties he had sung with other fishermen who went out to catch menhaden for a living. This led to the formation of the Menhaden Chantey Men, a singing and performing group of retired fishermen. Henry's 1995 album, Poor Man's Blues, was produced by Lightnin' Wells. Towards the end of his life, the Music Maker Relief Foundation provided a monthly stipend for prescription medicine and arranged for his album Beaufort Blues to be professionally produced. He was profiled in the book Music Makers: Portraits and Songs from the Roots of America (2004).
|1995||Poor Man's Blues||New Moon 9508|
|2002||Beaufort Blues||Music Maker 27|
|1993||Carolina Blues Jam||Erwin Records 9301|