Joe Bennie Pugh is born near Hughes, Arkansas, on 10 July 1926.
In 1932 now using the name Robert Lee McCoy, McCollum travels in the South.
Five years on together with Big Joe Williams, McCoy backs Sonny Boy Williamson I, on his debut session. On the same day, McCoy makes his own recording debut. One of the songs he records is 'Prowling Night-Hawk'. This inspires him to use the name Robert Nighthawk which will become his most enduring pseudonym.
The following year McCollum records for Bluebird under the name Rambling Bob.
Recording for Decca in 1940 McCollum uses the name Peetie's Boy.
In 1941 under the name Lee McCoy, the guitarist backs Walter Vinson on a session but plays harmonica on these dates, although he never sounds too comfortable with that instrument.
Forrest City Joe records for the Chess brothers' Aristocrat record label in Chicago in 1948. One of his numbers is called 'Memory of Sonny Boy', in tribute to the deceased harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson I.
Now regularly using the name Robert Nighthawk, McCollum records for the Aristocrat label in 1949 and cuts two of his finest songs 'Sweet Black Angel' and 'Annie Lee Blues' which rose to number 13 in the charts. The following year Pianist Pinetop Perkins plays with Nighthawk on another Aristocrat session. In 1951 he can be found in East St Louis, teamed up with harmonica player Little Mack Simmons. Nighthawk also records for the new United record label but he makes his last recordings for the United and States record labels in Chicago in 1952.
Folklorist Alan Lomax encounter Forrest City Joe while travelling in the South and records some of his songs but in the following year 3 April 1960 Forrest City Joe is killed in a road accident, coming home after a Saturday night dance.
In 1964 Nighthawk enjoys fresh popularity with a new blues audience when he plays at the University of Chicago's May folk festival in 1964.
In August 1967 he makes what will be his final recordings, accompanying his old friend Houston Stackhouse. On 5 November that year, Robert Nighthawk dies of congestive heart failure.