Billy Gibson, a.k.a. "The Prince of Beale Street," is a star of the Deep South blues harmonica scene. Raised in Clinton, Mississippi, schooled in the Delta jukes and Beale Street clubs, Gibson beat out the best (including Rick Estrin and Mark Hummel) to claim the 2009 Blues Music Award for "Instrumentalist of the Year - Harmonica." The award just confirmed what many already knew: Billy Gibson is a dangerous man when you give him the stage and put a harp in his hand.
Gibson first picked up the harmonica at a very young age. “It was cheap and I could easily make sounds with it.” After high school, Gibson’s desire for learning and improving as a musician took him to Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he played with blues guitarist Johnnie Billington and drummer Bobby Little in Billington’s group The Midnighters. “Johnnie and Bobby taught me how to make it in this business,” Gibson recalls.
Like many before him, Gibson eventually left Mississippi for Memphis. “Beale Street was my university of blues,” recalls Gibson, referring to the lessons learned as a Beale Street performer. “For a young musician, all you have to do is look and listen and you can learn so much.” In Memphis, Gibson developed a close relationship with Pete Pedersen, with whom he studied jazz harmonica technique. “Pedersen opened new worlds for me. He wanted me to approach harmonica from a musician’s standpoint, to bring musicianship to the instrument. Working with Pete was the greatest musical experience."
Gibson’s talent and commitment have not gone unrecognized. He received an endorsement from Hohner in 1999. He has made guest appearances on national recording artists’ CDs, including Deborah Coleman’s Soft Place to Fall (Blind Pig 2000) and Michael Burks’ I Smell Smoke(Alligator 2003). In 2003 the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences awarded him (jointly with Blind Mississippi Morris) a Premier Player Award as "outstanding harmonica player of Memphis" and in 2002 Gibson was the outright winner of the same category. Memphis Flyer listed Gibson in the 2004 Top 20 Music Poll. Around the same time, Gibson received a BA in music from the University of Memphis.
Gibson’s career has been a constant progression into many genres of music, with blues being the foundation and primary inspiration of his artistic endeavors. He has five albums under his belt; the latest studio recording, The Billy Gibson Band, landed him a Blues Music Award nomination, and the rest is history.