Nathaniel "Bill" Barnes Collection MSS.0441
Nathaniel Barnes was born in the year 1910 in D’Lo Mississippi in Simpson County. Following a bollweevil infestation of the Mississippi farmlands, approximately 600 workers and their families migrated to Texas for work. Mr. Barnes came with his family during this migration and resided with them at the Murray Farm in Crockett, Texas. He began working on the farm with his father at the age of 13. It was then that his father began singing spirituals with young Nathaniel while they worked and teaching him to play guitar in the evenings. At the age of 19, Nathaniel Barnes formed his own quartet, "The Vistoula Four". He honed his skills playing guitar and was then also taught piano by his father.
In 1939, Mr. Barnes moved to Houston and other larger cities throughout Texas as he worked a series of jobs. Interspersed throughout this moving about, he lived in Houston intermittently. At one point he worked at the Brown Shipyards and organized the Silver Gate Singers, which was a group formed to entertain troops as they boarded their ships that were going to war.
He befriended and was influenced by Lightnin’ Hopkins during the early 1940s. Mr. Barnes noted that they met often during this time in a house in the Third Ward on West Gray Street. He also formed a band with O.J. Williams, which they called O.J. Williams and the Sons.
In his later years, Mr. Barnes reverted from playing blues to playing only spirituals. In the 1940s, he had recorded his first set of original songs. His second recordings were taped in 1963. Neither was released in the United States, because they were in the blues style, and Mr. Barnes wanted his only associations to be with religious music. He instructed the studio not to release the recordings, but to give them away. He was unconcerned about making a profit from them. Mr. Barnes never returned to playing music other than spirituals and spent his remaining days playing organ for churches throughout Houston.
The material in the Nathaniel “Bill” Barnes Collection chronicles Mr. Barnes’ musical career from his young adulthood to 1992. The collection consists of a fully transcribed oral history interview and four photographs.
Permission to publish or reproduce materials from the Nathaniel "Bill" Barnes Collection must be obtained from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center or the appropriate copyright holder.
Nathaniel "Bill" Barnes Collection. Collection Number MSS 441. Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.
Donated by: Nathaniel Barnes, January 18, 1992.
Processing by: Charles Stephenson and Tammy Jordan July 5, 2007. Biographical note contributed by Tammy Jordan.
Detailed Description of the Collection