Jontavious Willis was raised singing gospel music with his grandfather at the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in Greenville, Georgia. When he was fourteen, he was amazed by a YouTube video of Muddy Waters performing his Hoochie Coochie Man. But as he related to Living Blues magazine’s Frank Matheis, “I gravitated to Peg Leg Howell, Smokey Hogg, Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Buddy Moss, Josh White, and Barbecue Bob. That’s what I like to play.”
He taught himself to play blues on the guitar fingerpicking, at-picking and playing slide. And nearly all of it blues in the older styles: Delta blues, Piedmont blues, Texas blues, and gospel blues. He ultimately learned to also play on harmonica, 5-string banjo, and cigar box guitar.
“That’s my Wonderboy, the Wunderkind,” says Taj Mahal, blues master and now mentor to the young Willis, “He’s a great new voice of the twenty-first century in the acoustic blues.”
Willis has been called a prodigy and is held up as proof that the blues is not a dead language. And like other young African-American blues players, namely Marquise Knox, King sh Ingram, and Sharde Turner, they are evidence that the culture of the blues survives and that traditions continue.
Jontavious Willis is currently 21 years old, nishing his studies at Columbus State University, majoring in sociology, and last year released the self-produced CD, Blue Metamorphosis, his first.