Lester William Polsfuss, known professionally as Les Paul, was an American guitarist born on June 9, 1915, who played jazz, country, and blues. Paul was also a songwriter, luthier, and inventor and was best known for being the inspiration for the Gibson Les Paul guitar. His career dates back to 1928 and lasted eight decades, so join us to celebrate his special day today.
Lester William Polsfuss
June 9, 1915
August 12, 2009 (age 94)
Lester William Polsfuss was born on June 9, 1915. He was a Gemini, born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and was of German ancestry. Paul’s parents divorced in his childhood. He began playing the harmonica at age eight and then switched to the piano and guitar. He then invented a neck-work harmonica holder, which allowed him to play both sides of the instrument hands-free. He was performing semi-professionally as a country-music singer, guitarist, and harmonica player at age 13. He then dropped out of high school and teamed up with Sunny Joe Wolverton’s Radio Band in St. Louis.
Paul moved to Chicago with Wolverton in 1934. They performed at the Chicago World Fair. He played music under the moniker Rhubarb Red on the radio in the daytime and at night, he was jazz-playing Les Paul. By 1937, Paul formed a trio with Jim Atkins and Ernie Newton. In 1944, his trio appeared on Bing Crosby’s radio show. In 1940, Paul created a prototype instrument called the Log, which was one of the pioneer solid-body guitars. He approached Gibson Guitar Corporation with his guitar idea in 1941, but it wasn’t until Fender began marketing its Esquire and Broadcaster guitars in 1950 that they showed interest. The guitar was dubbed the Gibson Les Paul and released for sale in 1952. Paul received royalties on sales. However, after the sales dropped in 1960, a modern model was introduced, which Paul didn’t like because of design defects. He ended his endorsement of the guitar and terminated the use of his name from 1964 to 1966. In 1965, he went into semi-retirement before recording two albums, “Chester and Lester” (1976) and “Guitar Monsters” (1978), for RCA Victor.
Paul created a recording studio in his garage and recorded songs for several musicians. His personal life wasn’t as public as his professional one. Paul married Virginia Webb in 1937, and they had two children before their divorce in 1949. He then met Irin Colleen Summers, A.K.A. Mary Ford, a country-western singer in 1945, and they began working together. They produced several hits including ‘How High the Moon,’ ‘Bye Bye Blues,’ and ‘Vaya con Dios,’ and married in 1949. Paul and Ford divorced in 1964 and two children together. On August 12, 2009, Paul died following complications of pneumonia at the White Plains Hospital.
Paul and Wolverton move to Chicago.
Paul forms a trio with Atkins and Newton.
Paul records this song with Bing Crosby.
Paul’s guitar with Gibson Guitar Corporation goes on sale.
Paul wins two Grammys for the “Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played” album.
Why We Love Les Paul
He was talented
As a guitarist, producer, and inventor, Paul was incredibly talented. He created magic in every song and through his inventions, he gave people the ability to make it for themselves.
He was a philanthropist
Paul created the Les Paul Foundation, which inspired innovation and creativity through the support of music education, recording, and medical research related to hearing. His foundation inspired the creation of the Les Paul Innovation Award and the Les Paul Spirit Award.
He was hardworking
Paul worked hard for his success. Despite spending over a year in recovery after his near-fatal accident, he kept playing because he was focused on his passions.
5 Surprising Facts
He was electrocuted
Paul got electrocuted in his apartment basement in 1941.
He was drafted into the Army
Paul got drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and served in the Armed Forces Radio Network.
He had an accident
Paul broke his right arm and elbow in a near-fatal car accident.
He lost a child
Paul’s first child with Ford was born prematurely and died four days after birth.
He made 20 albums
Paul created and collaborated on 20 albums.
Les Paul FAQs
When was Lester Polsfuss inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
He was inducted in 1988.
When did Les Paul receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
He received it in 1960.
How much is a Les Paul guitar worth?
The Gibson Les Paul guitar ranges from $10,000 to $400,000.
Les Paul’s birthday dates