William Thomas Dupree was born in 1909 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His father was from the Belgian Congo and his mother was part African-American, part Cherokee. His parents ran a grocery store in the Irish Channel neighborhood and the family lived upstairs. When he was about one year old, the house was set on fire by the Ku Klux Klan and both his parents were killed. He grew up in the Colored Waifs Home in New Orleans where he received no schooling, but learned about music, cooking and fighting. When he came out of the orphans home, he learned to play barrelhouse piano, especially from a pianist called Willie Drive 'Em Down Hall. He made his living playing piano and fighting in the street for bets. He returned to Chicago in 1939 and joined a circle of recording artists including Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, who introduced him to record producer Lester Melrose. After WWII he moved to New York, where he made multiple recordings for many labels, including his legendary 1958 album for Atlantic Records, Blues from the Gutter.