Songwriting and open jam session highlight birthday celebration for Blues Pioneer Sleepy John Estes

January 2, 2024

Ever wanted to write a Blues song? Learn how during Sleepy John’s Country Blues Jam Saturday, January 27, at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville. The free songwriting workshop and open acoustic jam recognizes the birthday and legacy of Brownsville Blues pioneer "Sleepy" John Adam Estes. The songwriting workshop begins at 10 a.m., followed by birthday cake and an open acoustic jam session.

West Tennessee Blues singer/songwriter Elam McKnight will lead the workshop that focuses on the Blues song as structure. During the workshop, you'll learn about the different styles and be presented with some ideas of where to start writing your own compositions. Examples will be presented of chord progressions and lyrical structure. Attendees are encouraged to bring their instruments for this interactive workshop but instruments are not necessary and anyone is welcome.

An open acoustic jam session will follow the workshop at 11 a.m. Participants are asked to bring their own instruments, voice or just your love for the music.  This jam session is non-competitive and open to everyone.

Estes, born January 25, 1899 near Ripley, Tenn., grew up in northeast Haywood County near Nutbush. He made his first guitar from a cigar box and came along at a time when Blues was just becoming a recognized genre in African American folk music. A rudimentary guitar player, Estes focused more on his unique style of "crying" vocals. He was one of the first generation of singers to become Blues specialists, distinguishing himself with his vocal style and through his songwriting. He sang about friends, acquaintances, and events with each song, painting a picture of life in a small rural southern town. His recordings are prized by collectors as examples of authentic "country blues."

Along with the workshop and jam session, you are invited to enjoy birthday cake and celebrate what would have been Sleepy John's 125th birthday. The Delta Heritage Center will also host a qualifying round of the Tennessee Songwriters Week (TSW) competition during the afternoon beginning at 1 pm. Participants in the TSW round must pre-register. For more information about the event, call the Center at 731-779-9000 or email


About the Center: The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center, in Brownsville, is a music heritage destination that offers a refreshing Southern experience showcasing the history and culture of rural West Tennessee. Inside visitors can learn about the history of cotton, explore the scenic and “wild” Hatchie River and get to know the legendary musicians who call West Tennessee home. Also located on the grounds is the Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School, the childhood school of Tina Turner, and the last home of Blues pioneer Sleepy John Estes. The Delta Heritage Center is also a featured stop along the Americana Music Triangle connecting Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. To learn more about the Center, visit or call 731-779-9000.