Category: Leadbelly

  • Captain Jack

    In the novel White Tears by Hari Kunzru, which is about the haunting of a 21st-century sound engineer by the ghost of a forgotten early-20th-century bluesman, the allegorical figure of “Captain Jack” appears early on, in a quoted song lyric. The lyric is from Son House’s “County Farm Blues” (1941): Down South, when you do […]

  • Authenticity, part V: Tribute or Appropriation?

    As John Lomax was the first to record Lead Belly, so Alan Lomax was the first to record Muddy Waters. Muddy Waters (1915-1983) was born McKinley Morganfield, the son of sharecroppers, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, also the homeplace of blues greats Son House and Robert Johnson. He moved to Chicago as part of the Great Migration in […]

  • Sylvie

    The Lomaxes say: [Leadbelly’s] uncle Bob Ledbetter had a wife named Silvy. In the middle of the morning, when Uncle Bob was plowing down at the lower end of the filed and the sun was hot, he would holler at Sylvy to bring him some water. After so long a time this holler developed into a little […]

  • Green Corn

    (Poster for Gordon Parks’s 1976 film Leadbelly.) In their 1936 book Negro Folk Songs As Sung by Lead Belly, “King of the Twelve-String Guitar Players of the World,” Long-Time Convict in the Penitentiaries of Texas and Louisiana, John Lomax and his son Alan published their transcriptions of many of the songs Leadbelly played. Of the song “Green […]

  • North and South: The Great Migration and the Lomaxes’ Southern Journey

    The early twentieth-century white folklorist Dorothy Scarborough once interviewed composer and bandleader W.C. Handy (1873- 1958), known as the Father of the Blues, about the origin of the blues. Handy, of course, was not the inventor of the blues, but he was the first musician to notate the folk music that he heard while traveling […]

  • Authenticity, part III: White Tears

    As you know by now, White Tears is the story (among other things!) of Seth, a young, white, college-educated sound engineer, who accidentally records a line from an old blues song while picking up ambient sounds in Washington Square Park. His business partner Carter, the scion of a wealthy family whose riches come from running […]

  • Authenticity (part I)

    The protagonist of Hari Kunzru’s 2017 novel White Tears, a young white recording engineer named Seth, describes days spent listening to music with his college friend, Carter Wallace: We worshipped music like [Lee “Scratch”] Perry’s but we knew we didn’t own it, a fact we tried to ignore as far as possible, masking our disabling […]