Bertha Lee Pate, known more commonly as Bertha Lee (1902 – 1975) was an American classic female blues singer, active in the 1920s and 1930s. She recorded with, and was the common-law wife of, Charley Patton, the "King of the Delta Blues."
Bertha Lee's family moved to Lula, Mississippi (Tunica County) when she was very young, and she married a man named Cleveland Harper around 1920. She eventually left him, but she remained in the area until she met Patton in 1930. Patton had married Magnolia Hill in March 1929, and the couple lived in Penton (Tunica County) during the start of his recording career. The marriage did not last long, however, and Patton started to run around with Bertha Lee, who sang on twelve of Patton's recordings, which resulted in the recording of three of her own songs, "Yellow Bee", "Dog Train Blues", and "Mind Reader Blues."
In 1933, Bertha Lee and Charley Patton settled down at Holly Ridge, Mississippi, where he wrote a letter to Jackson talent scout H.C. Speir, seeking to resume his recording career (He had not recorded since 1930). Speir said that he would pay their way to Jackson, and Patton brought along Willie Brown, Son House, and Bertha Lee to make test records.
In early 1934, Patton and Bertha Lee were incarcerated in a Belzoni jail after witnessing a murder. Vocalion Records executive W. R. Calaway was so impressed with the tests that he came down and bailed the pair out of jail, and he escorted them to New York City, for what would be Patton's final sessions (on January 30 and February 1).
They later returned to Holly Ridge and Bertha Lee held Patton in his final moments, as he died, according to his death certificate, of a mitral valve disorder on April 28, 1934.
Bertha Lee married a man named Jones between 1934 and 1940, but she split with him and married another man named Joiner. Bertha Lee Joiner died in 1975 in Chicago, Illinois.
In 2017, the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund affiliate in the Mid West visited Restvale Cemetery. He discovered that the grave of Bertha Lee Joiner was unmarked in Section H, Lot 340, Grave 6.
We are now soliciting design ideas and donations for the small flat marker that we plan to place on her grave.