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You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself.... A big black man

will walk up there and take your guitar, and he'll tune it. And then he'll play

a piece and hand it back to you.

 

 

 

Blues Men

Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, Bukka White, Skip James

 

Robert Johnson was born in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, May 8, 1911, but spent much of his early life in levee camps and on plantations in the northern Delta. He moved with his family to Memphis in 1914, staying there until 1918, when his stepfather sent him to live at the Abbay and Leatherman Plantation near Robinsonville, Mississippi. There Johnson began playing harmonica and associating with older blues musicians. He followed local bluesman Willie Brown to parties and fish fries, accompanying him on many pieces. Soon Johnson was playing with Brown and his partner Charley Patton when the latter came to town. By 1930, Son House was out of Parchman Farm and had settled in Robinsonville. House’s guitar playing had a profound effect on Johnson, and the younger man abandoned his harmonica for the guitar. House and Brown became a team, hopping rides to Memphis to play for tips in Church’s Park with Johnson tagging along. When they were drinking, House, Brown, and Patton would belittle Johnson for his lack of guitar skill. The young man soon left Robinsonville and headed back to Hazelhurst.

Robert Johnson married while in Hazelhurst and practiced his picking, learning new songs from phonograph records. There he fell under the spell of local guitarist Ike Zinnerman, a man whom locals claim he imitated closely. Johnson re-emerged in Robinsonville many months later without his wife but displaying a dazzling guitar technique and a raft of new songs sounding suspiciously like records by Lonnie Johnson (no relation), Skip James, Peetie Wheatstraw, Scrapper Blackwell, and Kokomo Arnold. His playing was a juxtaposition of shuffling rhythms and slide guitar leads that dwarfed the playing of his contemporaries. Some believed that Johnson had met the Devil at the Crossroads and exchanged his soul for his extraordinary ability. Although Johnson’s songs were derivative of other musicians’, they display a personal approach to familiar themes of loss, isolation, and paranoia, while introducing diabolical references. Johnson played everywhere, from the Kitty Cat Club in Helena, Arkansas, to the streets of Friars Point in front of Hirsberg Drugstore. His wanderlust took him to coal yards, speakeasies, levee camps, and taverns in the Midwest, on the East Coast, and even in Canada. But it was his recordings that were to have the widest impact.

Robert Johnson recorded twice, first in San Antonio, Texas, in November 1936 and again in Dallas, Texas, in June 1937. Listening to commercial records yielded artistic dividends for Johnson. The twenty-nine songs he recorded during those two sessions display an appreciation for the medium by being tight, thematically coherent, and short enough for one side of a 78 disc. Johnson’s performances were unequalled. Bottleneck leads alternating with driving rhythms and lyrics sung in a high tense voice create masterpieces of the genre.

His success was cut short a year later when he was poisoned behind the Three Forks Store in Quito, Mississippi. An ailing Johnson was brought to nearby Greenwood, where he lingered for several days at 109 Young Street before dying August 16, 1938. He was hastily buried in the Mt. Zion churchyard before being re-interred in the nearby Mt. Payne graveyard.

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Robert Johnson went down to the crossroad . . . where they say he struck a deal with the Devil. Fellow bluesman Tommy Johnson (no relation) said, "If you want to learn how to play anything you want to play and learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where a road crosses that way, where a crossroad is. Get there, be sure to get there just a little 'fore 12:00 that night so you'll know you'll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself.... A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar, and he'll tune it. And then he'll play a piece and hand it back to you. That's the way I learned to play anything I want." (As told by LeDell Johnson to David Evans and quoted from Peter Guralnick's Searching for Robert Johnson, copyright © 1982, 1989.)

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In 1936 and 1937, Robert Johnson recorded such immortal blues classics as "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom," "Sweet Home Chicago," "Come On In My Kitchen," "Crossroad Blues," "Traveling Riverside Blues," "Love in Vain," "Hellhound on My Trail," and "Me And The Devil Blues."

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PHOTO: Charley Patton

Charley Patton, born in April 1891, between Edwards and Bolton in southern Mississippi,  was the scrawny child of sharecropper parents. In 1900, his family moved 100 miles north to the Delta and the Will Dockery Plantation. There Patton fell under the spell of guitarist Henry Sloan and would follow him to gigs. By 1910, he had become proficient as a performer and songwriter, having already composed "Down The Dirt Road Blues," a slow drag called "Banty Rooster Blues," and his theme song "Pony Blues."

After the turn of the decade Patton began playing with Willie Brown, a guitarist who would later become a regular on his recordings. Patton’s music began to exert considerable influence; guitarist Tommy Johnson had moved to the Dockery vicinity circa 1913 and was soon playing Delta blues including Patton’s "Pony Blues."

Around 1914, Patton began playing his guitar with members of the Chatmon family, working picnics and frolics. Bo, Sam, and Lonnie Chatmon and guitarist Walter Vinson later would gain fame as the Mississippi Sheiks. Bo Chatmon also recorded many titles as soloist Bo Carter. Patton continued playing and rambling around the Delta, going north to Memphis and as far west as Arkansas and Louisiana. By 1926, a young Robert Johnson had begun following Patton and Brown to gigs trying to learn from the veteran guitarists.

Patton made his first recording in June 1929, cutting fourteen songs for the Paramount label, all issued on 78s. Such was the success of his initial session that he was invited four months later to Paramount’s new studio in Grafton, Wisconsin, where he recorded twenty-eight additional tunes. Patton’s polyrhythmic picking, accompanied by tapping the body of the guitar, created an intricate dance melody that its author could play for thirty minutes or more. Son House, who recorded in a 1930 session that also featured Patton and Brown, recalled that Charley "clowned" for an audience by playing the guitar behind his back or between his knees. Patton included regional landmarks in his tunes - places that a local record-buying audience would be familiar with, including a Moorehead, Mississippi railroad crossing, "Where the Southern Crosses the Dog," in "Green River Blues" and Parchman Farm in "A Spoonful Blues.

Howlin Wolf, who moved to Dockery in 1926, recalled seeing Patton on the town square in Drew, not far from Dockery Plantation. Patton’s hypnotic three-note songs also deeply influenced Clarksdale’s John Lee Hooker, who recorded his own version of Patton’s "Pea Vine Blues." Bukka White also cited a desire "to come to be a famous man, like Charley Patton," and demonstrated a similar knack for playing dance songs for extended periods. Patton’s last recording session was in New York City in February 1934, two months before his death.

Charley Patton died April 28, 1934, at 350 Heathman Street in Indianola, Mississippi. Patton's grave is located in Holly Ridge, Mississippi, and the tombstone acknowledges his pivotal role in the development of the Delta Blues.

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PHOTO: Son House

Son House, born near Lyon, Mississippi, March 21, 1902,  chopped cotton as a teenager while developing a passion for the Baptist church. He delivered his first sermon at the age of fifteen and within five years was the pastor of a small country church south of Lyon. His fall from the church was a result of an affair with a woman ten years his senior, whom he followed home to Louisiana. By 1926, House had returned to the Lyon area and began playing guitar under the tutelage of an obscure local musician named James McCoy.

He developed quickly as a guitarist; within a year he had fallen in with Delta musician Rube Lacy and began emulating his slide guitar style. House shot and killed a man during a house party near Lyon in 1928.

He was sentenced to work on Parchman Farm, but was released within two years after a judge in Clarksdale re-examined the case. Having been advised by the judge to leave theClarksdale vicinity, House relocated to Lula and there met bluesman Charley Patton while playing at the Lula railroad depot for tips.

Patton befriended House, who began working as a musician around the Kirby Plantation. In 1930, Patton brought him, guitarist Willie Brown, and pianist Louise Johnson to Grafton, Wisconsin, for a recording session with Paramount Records. House’s influence on the Delta School of musicians can be judged from a handful of recordings made in Grafton. His song "Preachin’ The Blues Part I & II" was a six-minute biography of his life and served as inspiration for Robert Johnson’s "Preaching Blues" and "Walking Blues." House’s powerful vocals and slashing slide guitar style established him as a giant of the Delta School but did not lead to commercial success. House continued playing with Willie Brown during the 1930s and developed a relationship with a young Robert Johnson after moving to Robinsonville, Mississippi. After Johnson had learned to play guitar, he began to gig with House and Brown, learning the older musicians’ licks.

House, Willie Brown, Fiddlin’ Joe Martin, and Leroy Williams were recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax near Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, in 1941 for the Library of Congress. Lomax returned the next year to record House in Robinsonville, but the musician did not make another commercial record until the "blues revival" of the 1960s. His influence, however, would be felt through the recordings of Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, and other successful blues artists. Son House died October 19, 1988.

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PHOTO: Bukka White

Booker T. Washington "Bukka" White, born on a farm near Houston, Mississippi, November 12, 1909, and named for the famed black educator, Bukka White was interested in music from an early age. His father taught him guitar at the age of nine, and a chance meeting with Charley Patton convinced the young White to "come to be a great man like Charley Patton." The son of a railroad worker, White was exposed to the sound of trains from an early age and was not afraid to hobo a train. He rode the rails from the Mississippi Delta to St. Louis, where he played poolrooms, barrelhouses, and parties for food and tips during the 1910s and 1920s.During a 1930 stay in Memphis, White recorded fourteen songs, including three gospel numbers with memphis Minnie supplying background vocals. Two 78s were released from the session, one containing two gospel sides and the other containing two blues numbers. Neither met with commercial success, but during this session White received the designation "Bukka" from a white record producer who had never heard of his famous namesake Booker T. Washington. He continued to travel during the 1930s, working as a professional boxer in Chicago and as a Negro League pitcher with the Birmingham Black Cats.

During the summer of 1937, White shot an assailant in the thigh and was sentenced to Parchman Farm. Before beginning his sentence, he recorded two blues for the Vocalion label, including "Shake ‘Em On Down," which sold in excess of 16,000 copies. Bluesman Big Bill Broonzy recorded "New Shake ‘Em On Down," and scored another hit on that theme while White toiled at Parchman. Making the best of a bad situation, he recorded for folklorist Alan Lomax in 1939, while the latter was at the notorious prison recording for the Library of Congress.

Upon his release from prison in 1940, White traveled to Chicago for a follow-up session to "Shake ‘Em On Down." The resulting twelve songs transcend blues as music, becoming powerful ruminations on imprisonment, isolation, loneliness, Jim Crow justice, and the freedom of the rails. White’s post-Parchman success was short-lived, however, as a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II curtailed his playing. During the 1940s, he occasionally played juke joints with Memphis legend Frank Stokes after the latter had moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi. White later settled in Memphis, playing occasional gigs and influencing his young guitar-playing cousin B.B. King. Like Skip James, Mississippi John Hart, and Son House, White was rediscovered during the 1960s "blues revival," and was once again celebrated for his slide guitar, throaty holler, and inspired compositions. Bukka White died in Memphis, Tennessee, February 26, 1977. He is buried in Memphis.

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Skip James, born June 21, 1902, in Yazoo City, Mississippi, at the "colored" hospital,  was raised on the Woodbine Plantation, fifteen miles south of Yazoo City and a mile and a half from nearby Bentonia. His bootlegger father left his wife and son in 1907, a step ahead of the local revenue agents. His mother bought him his first guitar for $2.50 in 1912. Henry Stuckey, a guitarist five years older who lived on nearby Sataria Plantation, taught James the venerable eight-bar staple "Drunken Spree." James’s mother moved the family to nearby Sidon in 1914 in an attempt to reconnect with her husband.

The reunion fizzled and fourteen-year-old James ran away from home for a year. In 1917, he returned to Bentonia, where his mother was then living. There he attended high school and worked on the weekends at Gooching Brothers sawmill. During this time James took rudimentary piano lessons from his cousin Alma Williams, a schoolteacher.

PHOTO: Skip James

James dropped out of high school in 1919 and left Bentonia to work and live at a road construction camp near Ruleville. During the next two years he worked in various levee and lumber camps around the Delta. While working in a lumber camp James composed his first song, "Illinois Blues." On weekends, he would pick his guitar for tips in the nearby towns of Drew, Louise, and Belzoni. In 1921, James moved to Weona, Arkansas, to work as a lumber grader at a sawmill camp. There he met pianist/pimp Will Crabtree. By James’s account, Crabtree was a huge man from nearby Marked Tree, Arkansas, who influenced his piano playing and lifestyle. James remained in Weona until 1923, hustling women and working as a pianist. After a dispute with one of the women, James moved toMemphis, where he worked as a pianist at a brothel on North Nichols Street.

Likely as a result of the passage of Prohibition, James returned in 1924 to Bentonia, where he remained for six years. During this time he worked as a sharecropper, but soon began bootlegging "white lightning" to pay for the fancy clothes and jewelry that he had come to enjoy during his days as a pimp. He also practiced his guitar playing, working dances with Henry Stuckey in Bentonia, Sidon, and as far away as Jackson, Mississippi. James developed his three-finger picking style, a style practiced by Charley Patton, Mississippi John Hart, and Jackson native Bo Carter. James’s trademark sound came from his E-minor tuning, which he called "cross-note tuning."

His digital dexterity, unusual sound, falsetto singing voice, and proficiency with a guitar convinced Paramount Records talent scout H.C. Speir to recommend James to the label based on an audition in Speir’s music store at 111 Farish Street in Jackson. In February 1931, he waxed eighteen sides at Paramount’s Grafton, Wisconsin, studio that were subsequently issued. During the session James established himself at the forefront of blues musicians, evidenced by songs such as "I‘m So Glad," "Devil Got My Woman," "Special Rider Blues," and "20-20 Blues."

Speir attempted to persuade James to record again in late 1931 or early 1932, but the musician had "gotten religion" as a result of a meeting with his father and refused the offer. The elder James had reformed his habits and become a Baptist minister. James followed his father to Plano, Texas, where he attended, but did not graduate from, seminary school. James remained with his father during the 1940s, returning home to Bentonia upon the death of his mother in the early 1950s. He was rediscovered in 1964 and together with Son House and Mississippi John Hurt sparked interest in the blues revival of the time. A rock version of "I’m So Glad" became a million seller, but James denounced it. He recorded and toured during the 1960s before being stricken with cancer.

Skip James died October 3, 1969, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is buried at Mercon Cemetery, Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

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Blues at the White House

An Introduction by President Barack Obama

This is music with humble beginnings—roots in slavery and segregation, a society that rarely treated black Americans

with the dignity and respect that they deserved.  The blues bore witness to these hard times.  And like so many

of the men and women who sang them, the blues refused to be limited by the circumstances of their birth. 

 

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books

 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 4 March 2012

 

 

 

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