Blind Willie McTell - Noted singer and blues musician, wrote "Statesboro Blues". Thomson sponsors an annual blues festival in his honor. Blind Willie McTell, one of the true pioneers and all-time greats of country blues guitar, was born south of Thomson, Georgia, in the area known as Happy Valley in McDuffie County. He was inducted posthumously into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990. (He died in 1959.) The festival started by, Dorothy Jones, tourism director for Thomson/McDuffie County in Georgia who searched diligently for a new way to promote the community and began organizing a music festival to honor the music and spirit of McTell, as well as to promote the area, Thomson in particular. The first Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in October of 1993. It was held north of Thomson in a hay field owned by the Peter S. Knox family.
The festival kept going and growing with normal attendance in the 2,000 plus range.
An array of talent from around the U.S. made the trek to east Georgia each year to play the festival. Performers have included Funderburgh, Steve James, Big Boy Henry, Sandra Hall, Magic Slim and the Teardrops, Sugar Blue, Del Rey, Steve James, Roy Book Binder, Dave Peabody, Junior Kimbrough, Deborah Coleman, Mudcat, Rod Piazza, Jimmy Rogers (now deceased), Deanna Bogart, Little Charlie and the Nightcats, Bill Morganfield, Michael Burks, Crosstie Walkers, Neal Pattman, Eddie Shaw, Shrimp City Slim, Jimmy Johnson, Paul Geremia, Eddie Kirkland, Kane , Blind Mississippi Morris, slide guitar wizard Roy Rogers, Kenny Neal, Guy Davis , Francine Reed, Little Charlie and the Nightcats, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Steve Riley , the Mamou Playboys, Peter Case, Paul Geremia, Chris Smither, the late John Jackson, Kenny Neal ,Deborah Coleman, Sean Costello, Tarbox Rambers, Hubert Sumlin, Duke Robillard, Bob Margolin, Carey Bell, Steve Forbert, Bill Sheffield , Ringtaill Rounders, Crosstie Walkers, etc.
The Blind Willie McTell Blues and Heritage Foundation Inc. began sponsoring the festival the following year and moved the event from the spring to the fall. The effort was entirely volunteer, with funding from the county and local businesses. The festival in 2000, the McTell Blues and Heritage Foundation merged with the non-profit Activities Council of Thomson. The council was formed in the late 1970's and has a long history of supporting the arts locally. The Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival will continue annually and will serve as the largest fundraiser for the Activities Council. The Activities Council and the community of Thomson have discovered a formula that brings in great music, honors a native son and provides financial support for area arts and artists.