Bertha Lee Pate

Bertha Lee Pate

 

Remembering Bertha Lee from Fanny Baker in the book Chasin’ that Devil Music: Searching for the Blues by Gayle Wardlow written in 1998.

Bertha Lee was a fine looking woman and could sing better than anyone I’ve heard. She ran off with Charlie Patton. Why, Bertha Lee visited Lula only two years ago. She’s living in Chicago.

Lyrics from Mind Reader Blues recorded between 1929 and 1934.

Baby, I can see just what’s on your mind

Baby, I can see just what’s on your mind

You got a long black woman with a gold teeth in her face

I’ll take a long look right smack down in your mind

I’ll take a long look right smack down in your mind

And I don’t see but one woman rambling up and down the line

Don’t kid your mama, you ain’t fooling nobody but yourself

Don’t kid your mama, you ain’t fooling nobody but yourself

And when I see on your mind, you would not have no friend

I remember a day when I were livin’ at Lula town

I remember a day when I were livin’ at Lula town

My man did so many things ’til I had to leave the town

I’m by the riverside, my man caught the transfer boat

I’m by the riverside, my man caught the transfer boat

And the last time I see’d him he had done gone way up the road

Well, I’m worried now, and I won’t be worried long

Well, I’m worried now, and I won’t be worried long

Well, I’m worried now, and I won’t be worried long

Taken form Bertha Lee: Mind Reader Blues Lyrics |LyricWiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia.

Bertha Lee Pate was born June 17, 1902 in Flora, Mississippi.  After passing away on May 10, 1975, she was buried at Restvale Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.

Young Bertha Lee was first married to Cleveland Harper, whom she had a child with.  By 1930, they were divorced and she had moved with her parents around the small town of Lula in northern Coahoma County, Mississippi. It was here that she met the legendary blues singer Charley Patton.  Charley Patton had started living at Lula around 1929. In the middle of 1930, he made his third Paramount recording after the president of that company had came to town searching for him and any other artists he could recommend. Bertha and Charley soon moved in together and their volatile relationship began.  About 1932 or 33, the couple moved south to Holly Ridge in Sunflower County.  Bertha worked as a cook for a local planter while Charley continued his music career. By that time, she was being referred to as his wife.  Charley and Bertha traveled to the different clubs making music.  T.C. Bailey described this time in their life as he would drive them to these juke joints.

“We used to run around together.  That was in the thirties.  I had a car and Charley didn’t. He played out in the country at them houses. Different ones got juke houses, get him to play for ’em.  He played for me sometimes. I have run a juke when I was out there in the country too.  I carried him to different places. Sometimes he played twice in one night. He played by himself.  We drank that corn whiskey.  He wouldn’t get drunk. He’d get high so he could play good.  He’d just sit down in one place where he could watch his wife.  He didn’t want you to talk to his wife. She could dance.  She could sing too. She’d just sing behind him.  He’d fight and shoot too. He carried a gun. He got in fights near about everywhere he played. 

Charley Patton

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Although the couple had arguments and fights, she loved Charley and he returned those feelings.  Unlike all his other relationships, Bertha was a singer too.  He respected that.  It was during this time at Holly Ridge when she recorded “Mind Reader Blues” in 1934.  Charley’s health was failing though from the hard living.  However, this didn’t stop his womanizing and the couple often fought about these transgressions. There were rumors that she tried to kill him by cutting his throat. They were actually arrested and spent all night in a Belzoni jail after one of these fights.  W. R. Callaway, from Vocalion Records bailed the pair out and carried them to New York for what would be Patton’s last recording session. It was in this session that Bertha Lee recorded “Mind Reader Blues.”

Bertha would stay with Charley for the rest of his life after the recording, but that would only be about three months.  On April 24, 1934, Charley Patton died lying across his wife’s lap.

Bertha soon met another man named Joiner and moved to a suburb outside Chicago, Illinois in 1949 where she worked in a used clothing store.  The talented blues singer never sang again. On May 10, 1975, Bertha Lee Pate passed away quietly at home.

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Sources:

Livin’ at Lula – The Mississippi Blues Trail. MS Blues Trail > blues-trail-markers

Bertha Lee Pate | Revolvy

Joiner, Bertha Lee Pate Patton (1902-1975) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. Blackpast.org

Komara, Edward M. Chasin’ that Devil Music: Searching for the Blues. 1998

Bertha Lee: Mind Reader Blues Lyrics | LyricWiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia

Sacre, Robert. Charley Patton: Voice of the Mississippi Delta. 2018

Bertha Lee Pate Patton (1902 – 1975) – Find a Grave Memorial

 

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