Jessie Mae Hemphill, a blues musician whose award-winning career lasted decades and was heavily influenced by her upbringing in rural Mississippi, died Saturday in a Memphis, Tenn., hospital. Biographical records are inconsistent, but she was believed to be in her early 70s.
Hemphill died from complications of an infection that may have resulted from an ulcer, said Olga Wilhelmine Mathus, founder and president of the Jessie Mae Hemphill Foundation.
Hemphill was born into a family of musicians in northern Mississippi and began playing guitar as a child. She was known later for her drum playing and singing in addition to her guitar work.
She lived in Memphis for 20 years and played the clubs on the city's famous Beale Street before finding an international audience.
Hemphill won the W.C. Handy Award -- the blues community's equivalent of a Grammy -- for best traditional female blues artist in 1987, 1988 and 1994.
In 1993 Hemphill suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side, leaving her unable to play guitar. She retired from touring and returned to Mississippi, where she lived with her poodle, Sweet Pea.
She released a final album in 2004 titled "Dare You to Do It Again."