Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page

Willie FosterWillie Foster, Photo courtesy of

Major Works

  • Just Messin' Around
  • Love Everybody
  • Honey Ain't Sweet
  • Hoochie Coochie Man
  • Janie On My Mind
  • Promise Me Love
  • Goin' To St. Louis
  • My Dear Old Dad
  • Willie's Boogie


Willie Foster: A Biography
By Jarves Austin (SHS)

Willie James Foster was born "like a rabbit" between the rows of a cotton field outside of Leland, Mississippi, on September 19, 1921.  His mother went into labor while picking cotton on the plantation where she sharecropped.  After Willie's birth she wasn't able to have any more children (delta musicians).

Photo below: Charlie Love Jacobs of the Tangents and Willie Foster 
Courtesy of Duff Durrough of the Tangents

Charlie Love Jacobs and Willie FosterAt age five he recognized he would like to play an instrument, so he bought juice harps and made a diddly bow.  At age seven he bought his first harmonica for 25 cents that he had saved from carrying water to the fields for two weeks of pay.  He became the first musician of his family.  The Fosters had little money and often he had sacks tied on his feet for shoes.  Willie Foster quit school in the fourth grade.

In 1937, Foster saw Muddy Waters perform at the Dunleith plantation, and he also remembered a visit by John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. In 1938, at age 17, Foster migrated to the north to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked in factories for three years.  Then he signed up for World War II duties.  He was stationed in England and recalled his first stage appearance a performance on the harp during a talent show.

Jarves Austin, SHS Researcher

Once he left the service, Foster shuttled between Mississippi, Detroit, and Chicago, before he settled in St. Louis, where he formed with the 3W's.  Willie Foster, Willie Williams, and Willie Howard made up the members of the group.  In 1951, he performed for his first paying job as a musician at Green's Grocery where they played for a soda.  In 1953, Willie Foster met Muddy Waters in Chicago, where they both performed. In 1963, Foster moved back to Mississippi to care for his father, who had been in a severe car accident. He began playing area jukes in Holly Ridge, Indianola, and Greenville (

In the 70's, when he was living in Greenville, Foster was playing regularly with James "T-Model" Ford, Asie Payton, and Frank Frost.  In the 80's he formed a new band "Rhythm and Blues Upsetters.  In 1992 he traveled to New Zealand for an extended stay with the band of Midge Mardsen.  While in New Zealand, Foster cut his foot in the ocean, an injury that caused infection that eventually led to the amputation of both legs.

Foster's first CD, At Home With The Blues was issued on the Greenville-based RMD Music label in 1993.  Two more CD's followedMy Life and I Found Joyfollowed on the Palindrome label (Living Blues.html)   In 1996 he visited the Netherlands to appear at the Blues Estafette Festivalin Utrecht, and returned to the country in 1999 for theKwadendamme Blues Festival.  In 2000, Live At Airport Grocery was released by Mempho Recordings. (Living Blues.html).

Willie Foster died of a heart attack in his sleep after a performance at a private party in Jackson, Tennessee, early on the morning of May 20, 2001.  The Willie Foster Band aka the Rhythm & Blues Upsetters performed as a tribute to the late Willie J. Foster at the Historic Princess Theater in downtown Columbus Mississippi, on Sat. May 18th 2002, a year after the 79-year-old bluesman Willie Foster died in a hotel room on Sunday, May the 20th 2001.  Foster is survived by his wife Chestrene, six children, twelve grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.  He lays at rest in Holly Ridge near his parents.