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I met John Hurt through Mike Seger in Newport in '63. His agent, Tom Hopkins said we could sit and talk. Of course it was a festival and I was sitting backstage with him and a few people. A month or so later he was playing at the Philadelphia folk festival. I saw him approaching me and I started walking briskly to him to ask if he remembered me, I was in my early 20s, and when I got near enough, he said 'Hey Man! Do you remember me!?' hehe! That explains Mississippi John Hurt! Instead of me asking, he did! - Jerry Ricks,

Author Topic: Ben Ramey Biographical Info  (Read 236 times)

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Offline arlotone

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Ben Ramey Biographical Info
« on: March 14, 2022, 09:27:31 PM »
Ben Ramey, on kazoo and vocals, was a key member of the Memphis Jug Band. He played and sang on most of their recordings from 1927 to 1930, and was included in their first 1927 promo photo, below. He was even name-checked in the MJB's version of "He's In the Jailhouse Now" as the character who cut a rival in the face ("How'd Bennie do that thing?").

I've been scouring for info about Ramey, and would like to share what I've found. Maybe someone has additional info to add to this.

Ramey was born April 4, 1896 in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was Jobe Ramey and his mother was Laura (Wyatt) Ramey. Known by his family as "Bennie", he was the oldest child, and had siblings Joseph, Mercie, Gracie, Bessie, Lillian and King.

His family moved to Memphis before 1907. In 1910 they lived at 747 Arkansas Street. In 1920 they lived at 806 Louisiana Street, and Ben was still with them, along with his wife, Mary.

Ben's jobs at various times included porter, trucker, laborer and cook for Mississippi River Steamers. Because of that last job, he was admitted to the U.S. Marine Hospital in Memphis when he became sick with pneumonia, and he died there on April 12, 1931. He was buried at Mt. Carmel Cemetery by T.H. Hayes and Sons.

Tracking Ben's wife and children after his death is challenging, because there were two Mary Rameys in Memphis, of about the same age, both born in Mississippi, and both widows. The Memphis city directory sometimes lists them both, one as the widow of Benjamin and the other as the widow of George, but in other cases it's not clear which is which. Ben and Mary last appear together in the 1926; in 1930, Ben is still with his family and Mary is at a different address, with two daughters, Mane (?) and Jessie, aged 16 and 14. Mane is not seen again, but Mary and Jessie appear at different addresses through 1940. I found a Mary Ramey of the right age, born in Mississippi, who died in 1978 in New York City, but I don't know if that's Ben's widow, George's widow or someone else entirely.

One more wrinkle to Mary's history is that the 1930 census listed both of their marital statuses as widowed. It's possible Ben remarried and his second wife died before him, but I don't think Mary remarried, because she was listed later as the widow of Ben. It seems more likely that after they separated, they were both telling people their spouse had died.

Ben's father died January 6, 1940 and was also buried at Mt. Carmel. His mother died October 31, 1943 and was "removed" by "Shelby Funeral Home" -- hopefully that doesn't mean she was taken to the Shelby County Cemetery, Memphis's potters field. I wasn't able to find anything about Ben's children or siblings.

The Memphis Jug Band didn't use another kazoo player for their 1932 or 1934 recordings, but in the late 1930s they were photographed with Wilfred "Bird Breath" Bell, playing a similar style of kazoo as Ramey's, probably a Zobo horn. In the 1950s, they used Dewey Corley on various instruments, including kazoo.

US Census, 1910, 1920 and 1930
WWI draft registration card, 1917
Memphis city directory, 1926, 1930, 1933, 1938, 1939, 1940
Ben Ramey, Jobe Ramey and Laura Ramey death certificates
« Last Edit: March 14, 2022, 09:51:10 PM by arlotone »


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