When travelers stop by our Visit Statesboro office, we always enjoy chatting with them about what brought them to town. Sometimes they’re just traveling through but often Statesboro is their final destination. They could be overnighting for a Tormenta FC game or a trip to Splash in the Boro, but often they are here because of a guitar player named Willie McTell.
Willie McTell was born on May 5, 1898 and became a singer, songwriter, and guitarist that predominantly played Piedmont blues and ragtime. McTell was born blind in one eye and lost his remaining vision before his teenaged years. McTell was born in Thomson, Georgia but he and his mother moved to the place that would create a musical icon — Statesboro! McTell’s first instruments were the harmonica and the accordion. Legend says as soon as he was big enough to hold one, he began learning the six-string guitar. McTell learned how to play the 12-string soon after and there was no going back! Unlike many at the time, McTell would play 12-string exclusively for the remainder of his musical career. McTell left Statesboro after the death of his mother and traveled, playing music from Atlanta to New York.
McTell wrote “Statesboro Blues” and recorded the song in1928 with Victor Talking Machine Company. Blues musician Taj Mahal recorded an adaptation of “Statesboro Blues” on his debut album in 1968. In 1971, The Allman Brothers Band released their version of “Statesboro Blues” on their album “At Fillmore East.” This version of the song has garnered several accolades including being named number nine on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Songs of All Time.” The song is still played on the radio worldwide and brings many visitors to Statesboro annually. McTell was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990.
The Blue Mile Committee commissioned the creation of a statue honoring McTell and graciously placed it at the entrance of the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau. Since its installation in 2018, the statue has become one of our city’s most iconic photo ops. If you want to learn more about Willie McTell, stop by and see us at the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau!