Blues piano legend Big Joe Duskin passed away at home Sunday morning at age 86.
A boogie-woogie piano player, Duskin may have been part of the generation that produced legends like BB King and Muddy Waters, but his background was far from typical: he fought as a soldier in World War II and became a Cincinnati Police Officer before becoming a professional musician at age 43.
His relatively late start in professional music was due to a promise made to his father, the Reverend Perry Duskin, who believed that blues was “the devil’s music”. Joe promised to stop playing blues and boogie until after the death of the elder Duskin, who lived to age 105.
But in the early 1970s, at the urging of a young Ohio blues scholar, Steve Tracy, Big Joe began playing again and was soon a hot ticket at festivals around the US and Europe. He released his debut LP, Arhoolie’s Cincinnati Stomp, in 1979.
Joe is beloved in his hometown as a mentor who never refused any musician’s request to sit in. In 2000, he received a Lifetime Achievement Cammy (Cincinnati Area Pop Music Award), and in July 2004 the Mayor of Cincinnati presented him with a Key to the City, proclaiming “The City of Cincinnati acknowledges and honors Big Joe Duskin for giving his hometown – and the world – a lifetime’s worth of great music.”
The release of Duskin’s last studio recording, Big Joe Jumps Again! by Yellow Dog Records in 2004 brought further recognition. The album was nominated by the Blues Foundation for “Comeback Blues Album of the Year” in the annual , and Duskin was featured in June 2005 with the cover story in Living Blues Magazine. Later that year Duskin became the first African-American honored with the Ohio Heritage Fellowship Award from the Ohio Arts Council.
Big Joe’s remarkable legacy and sharing of his talent in his aging years, in spite of pain and poor health due to complications from diabetes, continues to be an inspiration to us all.