Chester Arthur Burnett (June 10, 1910 – January 10, 1976), known professionally as Howlin' Wolf, was an American blues singer, songwriter, guitarist, and harmonica player. He is regarded as one of the most influential blues musicians of all time. Over a four-decade career, he recorded in genres such as blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and psychedelic rock. He also helped bridge the gap between Delta blues and Chicago blues. Born into poverty in Mississippi as one of six children, he went through a rough childhood where his mother kicked him out of her house, and he moved in with his great-uncle, who was particularly abusive. He then ran away to his father's house where he finally found a happy family, and in the early 1930s became a protégé of legendary Delta blues guitarist and singer, Charley Patton. He started a solo career in the Deep South, playing with other notable blues musicians of the era, and at the end of a decade had made a name for himself in the Mississippi Delta.
After going through some legal issues and undergoing a particularly rough experience while serving in the Army, he moved to Chicago, Illinois, in adulthood and became successful. He started his recording career in 1951 after being heard singing by then 19-year-old Ike Turner, and then formed his own band in Chicago. Five of his songs managed to get on the Billboard national R&B charts, and he also released several albums in the 1960s and 1970s, and made several television performances as well. His studio albums include The Howlin' Wolf Album (1969), Message to the Young (1971), and The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions (1971). He released his final album The Back Door Wolf in 1973, and also made his last public performance in November 1975 with fellow blues legend B.B. King. After years of severely declining health, Burnett died in 1976, and was posthumously inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
With a booming voice and imposing physical presence, he is one of the best-known Chicago blues artists. AllMusic has described him as "a primal, ferocious blues belter with a roster of classics rivaling anyone else, and a sandpaper growl of a voice that has been widely imitated". The musician and critic Cub Koda noted, "no one could match Howlin' Wolf for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits." Producer Sam Phillips recalled, "When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.'" Several of his songs, including "Smokestack Lightnin'", "Killing Floor" and "Spoonful", have become blues and blues rock standards. "Smokestack Lightnin'" was selected for a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999, and three of his songs were listed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 54 on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".