McTell was a twelve-string finger picking guitarist and singer, who recorded from 1927 to 1955. One of his most famous songs, "Statesboro Blues" has been covered by many artists including Taj Mahal and The Allman Brothers Band, and Bob Dylan wrote and recorded a tribute to him.
Blind from birth, and an adept reader of Braille, McTell began his recording career in 1927 for Victor Records of Atlanta, following a spell as an intinerant musician. In the years before World War II, he recorded prodigiously, for a wide variety of labels under an equal variety of names, but his style was singular -- a form of country blues, bridging the gap between the raw blues of the Mississippi Delta and the more refined East Coast sound. The style is well documented on Alan Lomax's 1940 recordings of McTell for the Library of Congress. Post-war, he recorded for Atlantic Records, but his continued career was cut short by ill health, predominately diabetes. In 1959, a year after the death of his wife of 24 years, he died of a stroke.
In 1981, Bob Dylan used the folk melody of the "St. James Infirmary Blues" to write a tribute song for McTell.