PERFORMING ARTS

The Blues: The Authentic Narrative of My Music and Culture

Chicago Review. Jun. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9781641604444. $30. MUSIC
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Musician and actor King theorizes about the birth of the blues and recounts his illustrious career. In the first half of the book, the Black, Louisiana-born author contends that Creole people in 1890s New Orleans created blues music. Ignoring reports of other Southern blues musicians around 1900 and downplaying the cultural and class rift between French-speaking, educated Creole craftsmen and lower-class Black Americans in New Orleans, King identifies Jelly Roll Morton as the likely father of the blues and names cornetists Buddy Bolden and King Oliver and guitarists Lead Belly and Lonnie Johnson as blues trailblazers. King also demonstrates how racist folklorists and collectors misleadingly conflated blues with illiterate, rural Black guitarists. The second half of his book is more compelling; King chronicles his first gigs at the juke joint owned by his father (the blues musician Tabby Thomas), where racist white patrons often demanded that King play songs by white artists who had become the face of the blues. He also details his innovative blues/hip-hop album 21st Century Blues…from da ’Hood (1994), his portrayal of acoustic blues legend Tommy Johnson in the blockbuster film O Brother, Where Art Thou?? (2000), and his work on the 2004 Ray Charles biopic.
VERDICT Though he needlessly rambles through New Orleans history to mistakenly cast Creole people as the sole originators of the blues, King expertly illustrates how racist misconceptions and white appropriation of the blues shaped and sometimes stymied his career.
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