By Marybeth Hamilton

ISBN-10: 0465028586

ISBN-13: 9780465028580

Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton-we are all accustomed to the tale of the Delta blues. Fierce, uncooked voices; tormented drifters; offers with the satan on the crossroads at the hours of darkness.

during this amazing reconstruction of the origins of the Delta blues, historian Marybeth Hamilton demonstrates that the tale as we all know it truly is principally a fantasy. the assumption of anything known as Delta blues basically emerged within the mid-twentieth century, the fruits of a longstanding white fascination with the unique mysteries of black track.

Hamilton indicates that the Delta blues used to be successfully invented through white pilgrims, seekers, and propagandists who headed deep into America’s south looking for an real black voice of rage and redemption. of their quest, and within the colossal acclaim for the tune they championed, we confront America’s ongoing love affair with racial distinction.

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OKeh’s advertisement for Mamie Smith. Recordings by Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Victoria Spivey, Alberta Hunter, and a host of performers with the surname Smith all followed. The record industry called them “race records” because their audience was assumed to be exclusively black. Ten inches in diameter, made of a shellac derivative, they spun on an electric or hand-wound turntable at 78 revolutions per minute. Until 1943 (when a wartime ban on recording intervened), race records sold in the millions in black neighborhoods across the United States, conveying the voices of hundreds of performers on a range of labels: Paramount, OKeh, Victor, Columbia, Black Swan, Electrobeam Gennett.

Is the Negro deteriorating? ” Odum was accustomed to the sight of African Americans, but not to asking questions about them. With his eyes opened by Bailey, he found it impossible to stop. Those dark faces that turned away when they saw him watching: What did the men and women behind them feel? What did they think? Surveying the bent figures in the cotton fields outside Oxford, he saw a compelling enigma, a mystery that needed unraveling. “The Negro has a life and an environment of his own which the whites do not see, which after all may be at the bottom of his actions,” he wrote in 1910.

It is a foundation myth, a story that conveys something essential and incontrovertible about the origins of the blues tradition. To its enthusiasts, the blues evokes the raw, anguished voice of African American suffering. Handy’s tale makes sense in this context because it is a story of discovery rather than invention. The blues, the story implies, is something eternal, primeval, entering into history through the accident of Handy’s first encounter. A sorrowful wanderer drifts in the timeless landscape of the Mississippi Delta, appearing before him as if from a dream.

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In Search of the Blues by Marybeth Hamilton


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