William Bunch (December 21, 1902 – December 21, 1941), known as Peetie Wheatstraw, was an American musician, an influential figure among 1930s blues singers. The only known photograph of him shows him holding a National brand tricone resonator guitar, but he played the piano on most of his recordings.
By the time Bunch reached St. Louis, he had discarded his name and crafted a new identity. The name "Peetie Wheatstraw" was described by the blues scholar Paul Oliver as one that had well-rooted folk associations. Later writers have repeated this, while reporting that many uses of the name were copied from Bunch. Elijah Wald suggested that Bunch may have been the sole source of all uses of the name. It would have been in character for Bunch to invent a name with a whimsical folkloric flavor.
All but two of his records were issued under the names "Peetie Wheatstraw, the Devil's Son-in-Law" and "Peetie Wheatstraw, the High Sheriff from Hell". He composed several "stomps" with lyrics projecting a boastful demonic persona to match these sobriquets. His hardened attitude and egotism have given contemporary authors grounds for comparing him to modern-day rap artists. There is some evidence that the writer Ralph Ellison knew him; Ellison used the name "Peetie Wheatstraw" and aspects of the musician's demonic persona (but no biographical facts) for a character in his novel Invisible Man.
African-American music maintains the tradition of the African "praise song", which tells of the prowess (sexual and other) of the singer. First-person celebrations of the self provide the impetus for many of Wheatstraw's songs, and he rang changes on this theme with confidence, humor and occasional menace. The blues singer Henry Townsend recalled that Wheatstraw's real personality was similar: "He was that kind of person. You know, a jive-type person." The blues critic Tony Russell updated the description: "Wheatstraw constructed a macho persona that made him the spiritual ancestor of rap artists."
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