Jesse Robinson has been playing blues and jazz for over four decades. Born in Benton and raised in Mileston, Mississippi, Robinson was “the seventh son, thirteenth child, baby boy, and a preacher’s son.” He first picked up the guitar at six and was soon backing his father at church. As a young boy, Jesse also worked on the family farm picking cotton and vegetables.
In the early ‘60s Jesse moved with his family to Jackson, and at 16 began attending blues legend Elmore James’ regular gigs at Percy Simpson’s club. When James took a break, he would often hand Jesse his guitar and tell people, “This little guy’s gonna be a good guitar player one day.” Jesse was soon playing jazz and blues around Jackson with bands led by Sam Myers, the Holly Brothers, Jimmy King, Duke Huddleston, and Joe Dyson. He participated in talent shows at the Alamo Theatre on Farish Street and also played at clubs around town with his own band.
In 1965 Jesse moved to Chicago, where he worked as a foreman at a television factory and performed on the weekends with his own band. He also sat in with blues greats including Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Freddie King, and Magic Sam.
In 1971 Jesse moved back to Jackson and led his band seven nights a week at the Avalon Court on Highway 49. In 1978 Jesse began hosting “Blue Mondays” at Dorsey’s and brought in guests including Z.Z. Hill. It was at Dorsey’s where Jesse met Little Milton Campbell, with whom he performed from 1979 to 1981.
From 1981 to 1986 Jesse worked as the bandleader for blues singer Bobby Rush and played guitar on Rush’s hit album Sue. In 1987 Jesse started the late-night weekend blues tradition at the Subway Lounge and played there for three years with his Knee Deep Band featuring vocalist “Big Daddy,” aka “500 pounds of blues.” Jesse was featured in the 2003 documentary film about the Subway Lounge, Last of the Mississippi Jukes.
In 1994 Jesse established the popular “Blue Monday” series at Fields Café on Farish Street, which drew hundreds of attendees. Since the mid-‘90s Jesse has worked widely as a solo performer at private functions. He had a several-year engagement at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and revived the live music tradition on Farish Street through a regular Thursday lunchtime show at Peaches Restaurant.
Jesse has performed for the Mississippi Economic Development Authority at trade fairs across the country and at the Mississippi Picnic in New York City’s Central Park. He has guest lectured on the blues at Mississippi State University and Millsaps College and worked with various “blues in the schools” programs.
In 2002 a song Jesse co-wrote with jazz singer Cassandra Wilson appeared on her CD Belly of the Sun. In tandem with his 60th birthday in 2004, Jesse released his first CD, Blues Child, and later that year released a Christmas album. He continues to perform as a solo act as well as with Jesse Robinson and the 500 Pounds of Blues Band.