The man known as Mance Lipscomb was one of the last remnants of a 19th century African American musical tradition. From before the blues was even called the blues. The son of an ex-slave and a Choctaw Indian, he was born Bowdie Glenn Lipscomb. Soon though, he dropped what he considered his slave name, and called himself Mance, short for Emancipation.
Born into a musical family, Mance Lipscomb learned the old slave-era songs and put them to the guitar. When he was discovered in 1960, the rags and ballads of his forebears were finally captured on vinyl. Lipscomb was really something special. His love for the guitar went straight to the bone. By the time he hit it big in the Folk revival, he had a special pair of dentures made so when he sang, a tiny gold guitar glinted on the top of his mouth. How cool is that? Here’s somethin’ else that’s cool. A full track. Listen to Mance Lipscomb thump that bass. “Shake, Shake Mama.”
Mance Lipscomb was born Bowdie Glen Lipscomb on April 9, 1895 near Navasota, Texas. At a young age he took on the name “Mance”—short for emancipation. The son of an ex-slave father and a Native American mother, Lipscomb spent most of his life working as a tenant farmer in Texas. He was discovered by Mack McCormick and Chris Strachwitz of the Arhoolie label, and recorded his, and their, first album in 1960. As Arhoolie’s very first artist, he’s considered one of the founding fathers of the folk blues revival. That record, “Mance Lipscomb: Texas Sharecropper and Songster,” displays Lipscomb’s particular style, a form of pre-blues that draws from the ballads and rags of slavery and the reconstruction era.
In fact, Mance never liked to be called a bluesman, as a professional musician who was capable of playing all different kinds of music, he preferred the term songster. Following his discovery by McCormick and Strachwitz, Mance spent the next decade contributing to the folk revival. He passed away in 1976, but left behind a wealth of songs and reminiscences, many of which are housed in the Mance Lipscomb-Glenn Meyers Collection in the archives of the Barker Texas History Center at the University of Austin.