Fictional Blues: Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White

Fictional Blues: Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White

by Kimberly Mack

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Overview

The familiar story of Delta blues musician Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil at a Mississippi crossroads in exchange for guitar virtuosity, and the violent stereotypes evoked by legendary blues “bad men” like Stagger Lee undergird the persistent racial myths surrounding “authentic” blues expression. Fictional Blues unpacks the figure of the American blues performer, moving from early singers such as Ma Rainey and Big Mama Thornton to contemporary musicians such as Amy Winehouse, Rhiannon Giddens, and Jack White to reveal that blues makers have long used their songs, performances, interviews, and writings to invent personas that resist racial, social, economic, and gendered oppression.

Using examples of fictional and real-life blues artists culled from popular music and literary works from writers such as Walter Mosley, Alice Walker, and Sherman Alexie, Kimberly Mack demonstrates that the stories blues musicians construct about their lives (however factually slippery) are inextricably linked to the “primary story” of the narrative blues tradition, in which autobiography fuels musicians’ reclamation of power and agency.
 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781625345509
Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date: 12/18/2020
Series: African American Intellectual History Series
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 684,527
Product dimensions: (w) x (h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

KIMBERLY MACK is assistant professor of African American literature at the University of Toledo. Visit her website at https://fictionalblues.com/.
 

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 The Narrative Blues Tradition 25

Tall Tales, Myths, and Black American Folklore

Chapter 2 Shug, Big Mama, and Amy 67

Autobiographical Fictions and Addictions

Chapter 3 "I Was Astounded at What I Heard" 109

Robert Johnson's Autobiographical and Biographical Afterlives

Chapter 4 From John Anthony Gillis to Jack White 143

A Study in Blues Self-Invention

Chapter 5 The Blues Apprenticeship 183

Racialized Conventions of the Acolyte

Afterword 213

Notes 221

Index 247

What People are Saying About This

Emily J. Lordi

The perspective Mack offers on blues mythology is fresh and compelling. Fictional Blues is well-researched, engaging, clear, confident, and important.

Caroline A. Streeter

Mack provides a complex mapping of American blues music to investigate the work it does as a multifaceted cultural trope, from its inception in the Jim Crow South to its global dissemination in the twenty-first century. Fictional Blues is certain to make an impact in African American studies, along with American literary and cultural studies writ large.

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