PERFORMING ARTS

Whose Blues? Facing Up to Race and the Future of the Music

Univ. of North Carolina. Oct. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781469660356. $95; pap. ISBN 9781469660363. $28. MUSIC
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Gussow (English, Southern studies, Univ. of Mississippi; Beyond the Crossroads), a white blues harmonica performer/teacher, concert promoter, and music writer, stitches together a dozen rewritten YouTube lectures and three previously published articles to understand the current dominance of the blues scene by white artists. In somewhat meandering chapters, he describes the complex emergence of the blues at the turn of the 20th century through the innovations of mostly Black and a few white musicians; the distinctive musical characteristics of blues music and lyrics; and how an African American fear of white-perpetrated violence helped give rise to the blues form. Gussow spends the last section of the book on the development of blues literature by such pioneers as W.C. Handy, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and the writers of the Sixties Black Arts Movement.
VERDICT Extremely knowledgeable but a bit overly academic, Gussow ably details the African American core of the blues and the shifting racial dynamics that have made the music so compelling to white Americans and blues fans in other cultures. Blues scholars will find the book illuminating.

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