Blues Legacy: Tradition and Innovation in Chicago

Univ. of Illinois. (Music in American Life). Oct. 2019. 328p. discog. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780252042881. $110; pap. ISBN 9780252084706. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780252051746. MUSIC
Whiteis (Southern Soul-Blues; Chicago Blues) has been living in Chicago and writing about the city’s blues-based music for more than 40 years. Here, the author grapples with a rather uncomfortable fact about Chicago’s blues scene: tradition often stifles innovation. Since the beginning of the so-called blues revival in the mid-1960s, when blues audiences began shifting from primarily black to mainly white, the purist demand for traditional, gutbucket blues authenticity quickly became a musical straitjacket. Suddenly, many blues fans seemed to prefer their blues regurgitated directly from the canon of the genre’s postwar glory days with note-for-note accuracy. Featuring interviews with—and discographies and biographical sketches of—more than 45 blues artists, past, present, and emergent, as well as images from photographer and songwriter Hurley, this volume explores the tricky balance between honoring the rich blues tradition imported from the Deep South and keeping the blues vital, contemporary, and relevant to all audiences.
VERDICT While readers will no doubt enjoy being introduced to some of Chicago’s most intriguing blues artists, this is by no means an introductory text. Instead, it’s a comprehensive, scholarly book, complete with thorough notes and a list of works cited--a thought-provoking addition to academic libraries serving students of music and/or popular culture.

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