Henry “Gip” Gipson, legendary bluesman and owner of Gip’s Place in Bessemer, passed away today at age 99.
Known for his backyard parties every Saturday night, Bessemer resident Henry “Gip” Gipson is a cultural icon known worldwide. Gip has been hosting his famous backyard blues parties in a thrown-together, ramshackle juke joint in his backyard located at 3101 Avenue C. Bessemer, since 1952 better known as “Gip’s Place.” “Gip’s Place” is the last authentic juke joint in Alabama and is one of a handful left in the world. Juke Joint’s began around the Jim Crow-era in the south as informal venues for beginning blues artist to work on and show off their musical chops. It all started in the early ’50s when Gip began teaching some of the kids in the neighborhood how to play guitar and sharing music with them. He started hosting barbecues in his backyard for family, friends, and neighbors letting the kids show off their talents and one thing lead to another, and the simple neighborhood barbecues grew into the famous parties of today, that attracts hundreds of people from all over the world to Gip’s backyard to sing and play the blues. There have been several documentaries about Henry “Gip” Gipson” and ‘Gip’s Place” including the award-winning one simply called Gip.
According to the family Bible, Gip was born in Perry County, on January 6th in an unknown year. He jokes with people that ask him his age and says somewhere between 80 and 100. He was raised in Uniontown, but the family moved to Bessemer, where his love for music began in the church and moved onto small juke joints. He started singing the blues and playing harmonica and then learned how to play the guitar. Because of his love for God and church, he attended Bible College in Huntsville. Gip worked as a railroad car builder at Pullman Standard for 25 years before leaving to become a gravedigger. Eventually, he purchased the Pine Hill Cemetery close to Birmingham and still maintains today.
Over the years, Gip’s Place has become a must-stop performance place for blues musicians and musicians of all different who respect it for its authenticity. Some of the musicians that have graced the stage of Gip’s Place are Earl “Gator” Williams, Kenny Brown, Mojo Child, Cedric Burnside, T-Model Ford, Lightin’ Malcolm, Johnny No, Willie King, Debbie Bond, Randy Buel and Billy Corgan lead singer of the Smashing Pumpkins. Every Saturday night, Gip would sing and play for those that have come out, and then he would turn the microphone over to the other artist that have stopped by to perform in this historic Juke Joint. During the night, Gip could be found meeting and greeting, shaking hands, and posing for pictures with the visitors to his backyard parties.
Thank you Mr. Gip for everything your did for everyone and making this world a better place. RIP.