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Book Reviews

In Search of the Blues

By Published: April 3, 2010
In Search of the Blues
Marybeth Hamilton
Hardcover; 320 pages
ISBN: 0465028586
Basic Books
2010

Blues scholarship and archive documentation has undergone an important and much needed evolution since the 1990s. Hints of this renewed but different emphasis appeared in Stephen Calt's I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues (Chicago Review Press, 1994), where the focus began turning from the artists themselves to the people seeking out the artists and spearheading the scholarship that lead to the blues revival of the early 1960s. It is a case where the quest for the subject becomes part of the subject.

Most recently, this new scholarship has begun fully emerging with Elijah Wald's Escaping The Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues (Amistad, 2004) and further amplified in Ted Gioia's Delta Blues (Norton, 2008). Marybeth Hamilton's In Search of the Blues shines a brighter, if imperfect light, on the study area.

Hamilton devotes the majority of her attention to the earliest writing about the indigenous music of the Mississippi Delta, beginning with the much covered story of W.C. Handy

W.C. Handy
W.C. Handy
1873 - 1958
arranger
meeting the blues at the Tutwiler train station in 1903, as recounted in Handy's autobiography, Father of the Blues (Da Capo Press, 1985): "A lean, loose- jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me as I slept...'Goin' where the Southern Cross the Dog.'"


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