Find Out More on Memphis Minnie

Charters, Samuel. The Blues Makers. New York: Da Capo Press,1991.

The Blues Makers is Samuel Charters’s monumental study of the blues, its makers, and the environment from which they merged. IT was originally published in two separate volumes, The Bluesmen and Sweet as the Showers of Rain, and for a long time languished out of print. Now, with the addition of a new preface and a new chapter on Robert Johnson which reconsiders his life and art based n recently uncovered information, The Blues Makers takes its rightful place as one of the greatest blues books of all time.Samuel Charters has long been considered a leading authority on the blues, and here he explores the personal, social, and musical backgrounds of the great blues makers. Charters proceeds from Mississippi, through Alabama and Texas, Memphis and Atlanta, to the Atlantic Coast and the Carolinas, stopping on the way to examine the music and lives of native blues makers such as Skip James, Furry Lewis, Sleepy John Estes, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Memphis Minnie, Willie McTell, Tommy Johnson, Ishman Bracey, Son House, The Memphis Jug Band, Charley Patton, and many others. In a style remarkable for both its clarity and its beauty, Charters analyzes these men and their work, using musical and textual examples and extraordinary documentary photographs. The result is simply one of the most remarkable books ever written on the blues.

Cohn, Lawrence, ed. Nothing But the Blues. New York: Abbeville Press, 1993.

This compilation of 11 articles, edited by Grammy Award-winning blues producer Cohn, examines the beginnings and progress of the blues. The book starts with a penetrating essay by noted blues writer Samuel Charters, who investigates the origins of the blues. It follows with chapters that clearly, extensively, and intelligently describe early blues in the Deep South and Texas, women and the blues, urban blues, the Sixties blues revival, and such often-neglected aspects of the blues tradition as gospel, Piedmont regional blues, white country blues, and the role of music researchers like John and Alan Lomax. Only chapters about the current blues scene and rhythm and blues offer disappointingly superficial treatment. Lavishly illustrated, well researched, and written in a lively style. – David Szatmary

Francis, John Davis. The History of the Blues. New York: Hyperion, 1995.

Davis, music critic for the Atlantic, treats the history of the blues with an emphasis on his own involvement with this music. He believes that attempts to discover the origins of the blues, often based on simplistic theories about slavery and Africa, are inconclusive, and he stresses that the interaction between recordings and the actual music makes it difficult to follow the music’s internal development. He touches on the issue of white involvement with the blues and concludes with an elaborate “Blues Timeline” showing how significant dates in blues history relate to developments in jazz, pop, theater and literature as well as to important events in American history, arts, sciences and technology. His impressionistic text rambles at times, but numerous passages on individual performers such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly and others are engaging, as are accounts of his trips to Memphis and Mississippi to see where it all began. Selected discography.

Garon, Paul and Beth Garon. Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues. New York: Da Capo Press, 1992.

Universally recognized as one of the greatest blues artists, Memphis Minnie wrote and recorded hundreds of songs, among them the famous “Bumble Bee Blues,” “I’m Talking About You,” and “What’s the Matter with the Mill?” Blues people as diverse as Muddy Waters, Johnny Shines, Big Mama Thornton, and Chuck Berry have acknowledged her as a major influence. At a time when most female vocalists sang Tin Pan Alley material, Minnie write her own lyrics and accompanied her singing with magnificent guitar-playing.

Thanks to her merciless imagination and dark humor, her songs rank among the most vigorous and challenging popular poetry in any language. Although organized feminism was at it’s lowest ebb, Memphis Minnie, a black working-class woman, called no man master, defied gender stereotypes, and exemplified a radically adventurous life-style that makes most careers of the ’20s and ’30s seem dull by comparison. Woman with Guitar is the first full-length study of the life and work of this extraordinary free spirit, focusing on the lively interplay between Minnie’s evolving artistry and the African American community in which she lived and worked. Drawing on folklore, psychoanalysis, critical theory, women’s studies, and surrealism, the Garons’ inspired explorations of Minnie’s songs illuminate the poetics of popular culture as well as the largely hidden history of working-class women’s self emancipation.

Oliver, Paul. Barrelhouse Blues: Location Recording and Early Traditions of the Blues. Memphis, TN: Basic Civitas Books, 2009.

In the 1920s, Southern record companies ventured to cities like Dallas, Atlanta, and New Orleans, where they set up primitive recording equipment in makeshift studios. They brought in street singers, medicine show performers, pianists from the juke joints and barrelhouses. The music that circulated through Southern work camps, prison farms, and vaudeville shows would be lost to us if it hadn’t been captured on location by these performers and recorders.

Eminent blues historian Paul Oliver uncovers these folk traditions and the circumstances under which they were recorded, rescuing the forefathers of the blues who were lost before they even had a chance to be heard. A careful excavation of the earliest recordings of the blues by one of its foremost experts, Barrelhouse Blues expands our definition of that most American style of music.

Santelli, Robert. The Big Book of Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia. New York: Penguin,1993.

This ambitious biographical encyclopedia delivers the goods, listing over 600 entries from every era and style of the blues. Santelli’s wide definition of blues music includes styles from folk to rock to zydeco. Important British artists like Eric Clapton and John Mayal are covered, and songwriters and producers also receive recognition. Some purists may quibble about the inclusion of Lucinda Williams and the absence of Koerner, Ray and Glover (the trio that introduced country blues to many white college students in the Sixties). Still, the concise, informative biographical data and the lists of essential recordings that follow each entry make this book essential for any comprehensive music collection. Highly recommended.— Dan Bogey

Tribbett, Marcus Charles. 1998. “`Everybody Wants to Buy my Kitty’: Resistance and the Articulation of the Sexual Subject in the Blues of Memphis Minnie.” Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies 29, no. 1: 42. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 27, 2011).

Talks about blues artist Memphis Minnie (Lizzie Douglas, 1897 to 1973), while referring to black women’s own voices raised in resistance to death and slavey. What Minnie’s music represented; How Minnie saw herself; Discussion on Minnie’s reputation.

Yellin, Emily. “Homage at Last for Blues Makers; Through a Fan’s Crusade, Unmarked Graves Get Memorials.” in New York Times; 9/30/1997, p1, 0p

Memphis Minnie was renowned among the early blues musicians whose howling, rhythmic calls, piercing harmonica riffs and wailing slide guitar licks rose out of the gritty Mississippi Delta cotton fields in the 1920’s and 30’s. Named Lizzie Douglas at her birth in 1897, she had toured the rural South in Ringling Brothers tent shows, worked in the Beale Street bars of Memphis in the 20’s and moved on in the 30’s to Chicago, where her peers bestowed the ultimate accolade: playing the guitar like a man. In the mid-50’s, she resettled in Memphis. By the time she died in 1973, the music industry had passed her by, as had any profits from her work. Memphis Minnie was quietly buried in an unmarked grave beside the New Hope Baptist Church in Walls, Miss., about five miles south of Memphis, off Highway 61.

  1. uservoices says:

    According to Wikipedia’s article on Memphis Minnie, Bonnie Raitt paid for a headstone for Minnie, which was installed in 1996 in a ceremony attended by 34 of her family members:

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