Born in Helena, Arkansas in 1909, Robert Lee McCollum started playing harmonica as a teenager and began the life of a travelling musician. In 1930, he met a distant cousin by the name of Houston Stackhouse who taught him to play the guitar and the two began travelling together, playing wherever they could to make money. In 1932 they found themselves playing a wedding for none other than Muddy Waters.
Robert was involved in a shooting incident in 1935 that sent him on the run, fleeing the Delta (he did not know the shooting was not fatal), and changing his name to Robert Lee McCoy (his mother's maiden name).
While he recorded up through the mid-1960s, 1936-1939 were Robert's most productive years as a recording artist, recording 25 sides as a featured artist for Vocalian and Decca Records, as well as many sides as a session player. He took the name Nighthawk from his song "Prowling Night Hawk", recorded during this time.
Thoughout his career, he worked with artists such as Jimmy Rogers, John Lee Hooker, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, Big Joe Williams, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, and Willie Dixon.
When in Chicago, Robert enjoyed playing in the open air market on Maxwell Street, setting up on corners and in alleys, playing music on the street for money. These perfomances caught the eye of guitarist Michael Bloomfield and photographer Mike Shea who filmed the Maxwell Street performances for a documentary of Chicago blues entitled, "And This Is Free."
Robert had been suffering from ill health and in November of 1967 he was admitted to the hospital in Helena, Arkansas where he died on November 5th of congenital heart failure, 25 days before his 58th birthday.
Eli's Place by Robert Nighthawk from the documentary "And This Is Free" (originally released in 1964, re-released in 2008 by Shanachie Entertainment)
More info on Robert Nighthawk here (CascadeBlues.org)