Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, famous bluesman and the oldest person in history to win a Grammy award, died at his Austin, Texas home on March 21, according to his website. He was 97.
Born in Belzoni, Miss. in 1913, Perkins’ began his career playing the piano and the guitar at house parties and “honyk-tonk” bars. “I didn’t schooling. I up the hard way in the world,” Perkins told The Associated Press during a 2009 interview.
After dropping the guitar due to an arm injury, he continued to work throughout the Mississippi Delta in the 1930s and ‘40s. It was during this time that he picked up the nickname “Pinetop,” a moniker he gave himself after an earlier blues pianist.
A landmark moment in Perkins’ career came in 1969 when he became the pianist in blues musician Muddy Waters’ band. Through this position, Perkins helped shaped the band’s sound and became famous for his bright piano solos. Although he acquired notability through his work as a sideman, he struck out on his own in the ‘90s and released a total of 15 solo recordings after this move.
Perkins earned a handful of Grammy nominations throughout his solo career, but snagged the coveted award in 2007 for his collaboration on the album, Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesman: Live in Dallas. He was also recognized by the Grammys in 2005, when he received their Lifetime Achievement Award.
In February, the musician made musical history when his Joined at the Hip collaborative album with harmonica player Willie “Big Eyes” Smith earned him his third Grammy, making him the oldest person to ever win the award. Prior to Perkins’ death, Smith told the AP that they were in talks about another collaboration project.
Perkins received his last living honor on Feb. 24, when Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his legacy in the arts.
Saddened by Perkins’ passing, friend and fellow musician B.B. King reflected on the performer’s legacy. “He was one of the last great Mississippi Bluesman,” King told the AP. He had such a distinctive voice, and he sure could play the piano. He will be missed not only by me, but by lovers of music all over the world.”