THE HISTORY OF THE BLUES

THE ROOTS, THE MUSIC, THE PEOPLE--FROM CHARLEY PATTON TO ROBERT CRAY

A quirky inquiry into the nature of the blues. Although written to accompany a three-part series on PBS, this book is more substantive than most TV tie-ins. Davis (Outcats, 1990, etc.), music critic for the Atlantic, divides his investigation into three sections: the ``prehistory'' of the blues; a more or less chronological portrait of leading blues figures; and a discussion of the blues revival and the reasons why an African- American folk art appeals so strongly to a white, urban audience. His approach is highly personal. He begins the book by recounting his trip to Clarksdale, Miss., a mecca for blues lovers in the heart of the Delta country. An outsider to the culture of the blues, Davis invites the reader to share his puzzlement at the deep faith of rural performers (``There are people who grow up actually reading the Bible...who accept what I read as lunatic ravings as both prophecy and literal history''). But he also tries to provoke the reader with outrageous comments, as when he describes Mick Jagger as ``the most famous of contemporary minstrels [who] sings and struts as though trying to get in touch with his Inner Negro.'' The heart of the book is a series of thumbnail sketches of key performers that capture the essence of what makes each performer great. His description of Big Joe Williams is particularly apt: ``He looked like the whale that swallowed Jonah, and sounded like Jonah bellowing to get out.'' Sadly, the accompanying selection of photos is uninspired, relying heavily on oft-published shots. The final section, on the blues revival, is perhaps the most interesting. In it, Davis underscores many of the ironies that occurred when white revivalists ``rediscovered'' the blues performers of the 1920s and '30s, many of whom had to be retaught their own songs because they had long since quit playing. This deserves wide reading among fans of blues and traditional musical forms. (100 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 1995

ISBN: 0-7868-6052-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1994

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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