Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Tony Jackson

Born into a poor family in New Orleans, Tony Jackson became one of the most influential blues pianists of the twentieth century.  He showed impressive skill while still a child, and by age 15 was playing in the best known honkytonks and brothels in New Orleans’ famous Storyville district.  In 1912 he migrated to Chicago for the greater freedom it promised him as an African American and a gay man. Though he never went public with his homosexuality, neither was it a secret, which was rare for the times. In Chicago, he quickly became the most famous and best-loved pianist on the Southside, working full-time in the best clubs in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Though he never recorded his music, he composed many songs, including “Pretty Baby,” which was widely performed and recorded by others. Jackson became mentor and idol to Jelly Roll Morton, another well-known blues musician and singer of the era.  Morton described Jackson affectionately as “the man of a thousand songs” who could play any song he had ever heard.  Jackson, who was a heavy drinker, died in 1921 of cirrhosis of the liver.