He was a self-taught fiddle player who performed at town halls and dances, sometimes under the stage name "Blind Bill Day", and occasionally supported himself by begging on the streets. In 1906, Day had a procedure to remove the cataracts from his eyes, and restoring his eyesight. Though he had an adequate ability to see, Day still performed with his "Blind Bill Day" moniker. In 1926, Day was discovered by promoter and folklorist Jean Bell Thomas, who was fascinated that rural folk musicians like Day possessed traits that had been passed down from their Elizabethan English forebears relatively unaltered, especially in their renditions of folk ballads. Thomas decided to manage Day, creating and documenting a persona almost entirely fabricated from her.
According to Thomas's story, Day, who changed his name to Jilson Setters per her suggestion, was blind from birth, lived in isolation in the mountains, and gained his eyesight only recently, thanks to a procedure that Thomas financed. Moreover, with his ability to see, Settlers was shocked by the appearance of the civilized world. Settlers recorded ten sides for RCA Records in New York City, including the "The Wild Wagoner", which has become a standard in traditional folk repertoires. In February 1930, Thomas published a heavily fictionalized article in American Magazine, entitled "Blind Jilson: Singin' Fiddler of Lost Hope Hollow", detailing Thomas first encountering Setters, their arrangement of his operation, and radio station work in New York City. Additionally, Setters re-recorded "The Wild Wagoner" for the Library of Congress, a rendition that was later included on the 1952 compilation album Anthology of American Folk Music.
In 1931, Setters traveled to London to perform at Royal Albert Hall, and for King George V and Mary of Teck. Upon his return to the U.S., Setters was the featured performer in the American Folk Song Festival, which was managed by Thomas from 1930 to 1972. However, whether it was a consequence of insufficient record sales or lack of interest, Thomas abandoned her project with Setters. Setters continued to perform well into the 1930s and early 1940s. He died on May 6, 1942, in Cattlesburg, Kentucky. Read more on Last.fm.
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