Reverend Leon Pinson grew up in North Mississippi, then lived in the Delta for over three decades, steadily playing his brand of blues-inflected gospel. Beginning in 1929, Pinson traveled the northern Mississippi region alongside his musical partner, the harmonica player Elder Roma Wilson. The pair built a strong following on the church circuit, earning renown for their renditions of This Train, Lily of the Valley, and Better Get Ready. In the 1940s, Roma Wilson left Mississippi for Detroit, where he would make his first recordings. Meanwhile, Pinson settled in Cleveland, where he play outside of Charlie White barber shop. Later he opened his own shoe shine stand, picking up the guitar when business was slow.
Pinson and Wilson were reunited in the 1970s, when Wilson returned to Mississippi. The pair gained widespread acclaim from appearing at several prominent festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival; the Chicago Blues Festival; the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife; and the National Black Arts Festival. In 1991, the Southern Arts Federation took them to venues throughout the South as part of the Deep South Musical Roots tour. Chicago blues writer David Whiteis wrote of one Wilson/Pinson performance, Wilson, who alternates his harp blowing with the brush arbor preaching in the traditional southern rural style, provides eloquent accompaniment and a gentle impetus for Pinson fretwork. Together they provide a rare testimony to the power of music as a vehicle of faith.GEORGE MITCHELL: We found him playing outside this little store. We recorded him a lot on acoustic, but when he was out in public, he had a little loudspeaker and an electric guitar, and he made some noise. His gospel felt like blues, he had a really beautiful sound. He had this crystal slide guitar technique. I was originally going to include a chapter on him in Blow My Blues Away, but ended up using another gospel player, Robert Johnson, instead.