PERFORMING ARTS

I Don’t Like the Blues: Race, Place, and the Backbeat of Black Life

Univ. of North Carolina. Dec. 2020. 208p. ISBN 9781469660417. $95; pap. ISBN 9781469660424. $24.95. MUSIC
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Foster (sociology, Southern studies, Univ. of Mississippi) examines the present-day, small-town rural South through a case study of Clarksdale, MS (pop. 17,725 in 2013), where blues icons Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker lived. He describes the recent attempts by Mississippi politicians to foster economic development in Clarksdale through blues clubs and festivals, which attract mostly white tourists. Interviewing nearly 250 residents between 2014 and 2019, the author found little interest in blues music among African Americans, who consider it the outdated sounds of the cotton fields that they would rather not revisit. Indeed, most African American residents, now 80 percent of the Clarksdale population, feel they have experienced the blues, which they define as racist-induced poverty and struggles that have led to a shared history and collective identity in the increasingly economically impoverished town.
VERDICT Foster’s thoughtful and well-researched look at race and the blues via an exploration of a distressed and declining Southern rural town will be useful to music and sociology academics.

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