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Claud L. Johnson (December 16, 1931 – June 30, 2015)

Claud L. Johnson of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, passed away on June 30, 2015, at Baptist Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. He was 83 years old and the only living child of blues legend Robert L. Johnson and Vergie Cain. Mr. Claud lived the majority of his youth with his grandparents, Alex and Elizabeth Smith.

His grandfather, a Baptist preacher, instilled in him the importance of faith, community, hard work and charity. This early influence from his grandfather played a major role in shaping the man he would become. Although he had very little formal education, Mr. Claud was extremely wise and he stayed sharp until his death.

As a young boy, he assisted his grandparents by working in the fields and did yard work for his neighbors. When he was fifteen, he moved with his grandparents to Gulfport, Mississippi, where he got a job unloading trucks. Throughout his career, he worked in a sawmill, a bottling plant, a service station, an electrical power plant and for a cabinet manufacturer. He also owned and operated a barbeque restaurant in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, and was an independent truck driver, hauling sand and gravel for Green Brothers Gravel Company in Crystal Springs.

Mr. Claud was not a man of means until later in life, but he still was able to appreciate how greatly he had been blessed. Each year for Christmas, he would buy a lot of fruits and nuts, which he would assemble into gift baskets. He would deliver the baskets throughout the community to the elderly, homebound and needy. A ten-year legal battle resulted in the adjudication of Mr. Claud as the only son of and the sole heir-at-law to the estate of Robert L. Johnson. His legal success did not alter the core values instilled in him by his grandfather. For six months following the first royalty check earned from his father’s estate, he continued to get up each morning to haul gravel. Today, almost two decades later, Mr. Claud’s old gravel truck still sits on his property and in view of his house. That truck was his constant reminder of his humble beginnings and how far he had come.

Even though Mr. Claud’s financial situation had changed, his sense of obligation and duty to those less fortunate did not – the gift baskets at Christmas got bigger and the number of people getting the baskets grew larger. Wanting to have an impact on his community, Mr. Claud established the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation, which, in part, aids in continuing the legacy of his father. Through the Foundation, he provided college scholarships, guitars, gifts, advice and opportunities to aspiring young musicians.

As the only son of Robert L. Johnson, Mr. Claud’s story has been featured in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The Denver Post and The Los Angeles Times, along with countless other newspapers and magazines, as well as by many television and radio stations.

Mr. Claud was preceded in death by his parents, nine half-siblings, his beloved wife of 59 years, Earnestine, a step-son, Lawrence Ephriam, a step-daughter, Johnnie Mae Beckley and a daughter, Diane Sanders. He leaves to carry on his legacy three half-siblings: Ruby Lynn Moody and Eugene Cain, both of Houston, Texas, and Alfred Cain of New Orleans, Louisiana, a step-son Johnny (Gloria) Ephriam of Detroit, Michigan, one daughter, Teresa (Odell) Guynes, of Crystal Springs, and four sons: Greg (Helen) Johnson of Canton, Mississippi, Elder Steven (Mishelia) Johnson and Michael (Patricia) Johnson, both of Crystal Springs, and Billy (Benita) Bailey of Valdosta, Georgia. Mr. Claud was blessed to have thirteen grandchildren: Lisa, Shell, Nikkitta, Sylvester, Kevin, Janice, Michael, Richard, Bethany, Stephen, Malecia, Adrienne and Shawn, as well as ten great-grandchildren and a host of nieces, nephew, cousins and friends. The family extends special gratitude to a faithful caregiver, Nora Skipper of Crystal Springs and his church family at New Covenant.

Mr. Claud will be greatly missed by all who knew him. He loved the Lord, his family, his church and his friends. He will be remembered as a straight talker who did not compromise his beliefs and who stood strongly by his convictions – if something was on his mind, you would know it; if you got out of line, he didn’t mind telling you.

Pictured: Claud L. Johnson at home in his Robert Johnson room.