The Half Has Never Been Told – A Review

HalfThe Half Has Never Been Told:
Slavery & The Making of American Capitalism

Edward E. Baptist, Basic Books (2014)
Review by Scott Ainslie

In the introduction to Cornell historian and Durham NC native Edward Baptist’s new history, the author explains his title by citing part of a 1937 WPA interview with Lorenzo Ivy, born in 1850 in what later became the last capital city of the Confederacy, Danville, Virginia.

Interviewed by writer Claude Anderson, Ivy said:

“They sold slaves here and everywhere. I’ve seen droves of Negroes brought in here on foot going South to be sold. Each one of them had an old tow sack on his back with everything he’s got in it. Over the hills they came in lines reaching as far as the eye can see. They walked in double lines chained together by twos. They walk ‘em here to the railroad and ship ‘em south like cattle. Truly, son,” Ivy said, “the half has never been told.” – p. xxi

The history Baptist unfolds in this work itself is a sort of desegregation of historical events that have long been kept separate in the preferred history of the United States within the United States. The publisher’s flyleaf text begins:

“Americans tend to cast slavery as a pre-modern institution–the nation’s original sin perhaps, but isolated in time and divorced from America’s later success. But to do so robs the millions who suffered in bondage of their full legacy.
. . .

“In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial and capitalist economy…Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African Americans. Thus the United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw materials of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence.”  Continue Reading

It’s Gonna Rain – The Louisiana Connection

It’s been ten years.

In June of 2005, blues singer and guitarist Scott Ainslie wrote his remarkable song, “It’s Gonna Rain.” A rhythm and blues song about love lost in southern Louisiana, it was a poetic and lyric evocation of the culture where “people drag themselves to the graveyard,” as Ainslie often says, “and dance their way home.”

Six weeks later Hurricane Katrina hit. It scraped the Gulf Coast clean. The levees failed in New Orleans, inundating the Lower 9th Ward and creating a modern day diaspora out of the city that has only partially been reversed. That was ten years ago this August.

Overnight, without changing a word, “It’s Gonna Rain” became a song – not about losing somebody – but about losing a city.

“And for my money,” Ainslie says, “one of the coolest cities in the world. A place where people follow the band down the street in what they all the ‘Second Line;’ where people don’t just tolerate differences – they celebrate them! New Orleans has always given America more than its taken. This song is for them.”

Playing with Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo in a benefit performance for the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh three years ago, “It’s Gonna Rain” brought the house down. For Marsalis, born near Bayou Teche, a native of Breaux Bridge, raised in the music of New Orleans, the song was a natural fit.

“Playing that particular song with Branford and Joey was a dream come true for me. I’d spent years working and making lifelong friends in Breaux Bridge and Lafayette, LA,” Ainslie says. “I was channeling that when I wrote the song: the Spanish Moss hanging in the Live Oaks, the cotton wood trees, the smell of the rain on the streets. It’s all there.

“I just didn’t know how much the meaning of the song would shift when the levees failed in New Orleans – levees that repair money had been appropriated for by the Clinton Administration. The George W. Bush administration wouldn’t release the funds. There were something like 143 editorials in the Times-Picayune in the years before Katrina hit, begging the Federal government to release the money to repair those levees.”

Expressing a sentiment with which devotees of the blockbuster cable TV series Treme (on the post-Katrina Lower 9th ) will be familiar, Ainslie quietly notes, “This wasn’t a natural disaster. The worst of the storm had past when the levees failed. This was an unwitting, but very real political assassination of a largely black, democratic city. Call it what it was.”

And Ainslie’s latest CD, The Last Shot Got Him (Fall-2014), is entirely recorded on a little arch top 1934 Gibson from Louisiana.

“The guitar came to me from Linda Handelsman, a fine composer, arranger and musician who lived in Lafayette at the time. I played three chords on it and it sounded more like Robert Johnson’s recordings than any other instrument I had ever touched. It was made when Johnson was 23.

“The voice of this little Louisiana guitar was perfectly suited to the music of its time. So, I let it choose the songs for The Last Shot Got Him: Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Rev. Gary Davis, as well as Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, and Fats Waller. It’s a lovely instrument,” Ainslie says, “that came to me from one of my favorite places in the world.”

“Without planning it, I’ve become sort of an informal ambassador, an advocate for New Orleans and south Louisiana. I have friends who left and went back, as well as friends who left and won’t ever go back. The 2005 hurricanes, then the Deep Water Horizon explosion and Gulf oil spill have kept the troubles of Louisiana close at hand for me.”

Ainslie says, “Keeping all this in mind, I raise my voice and sing the blues.”

Scott Ainslie in Readsboro VT, Friday-June 19, 2015

Readsboro Press ScansExperience the diversity of the blues this weekend
by Rolf Parker

Deerfield Valley News, June 12, 2015

READSBORO, VT–There are several things about a Scott Ainslie concert that make it different from many others. For one thing, no one knows what songs bluesman Ainslie will lay at the E. J. Bullock building on June 19, not even Ainslie.

“I can’t give you a set list because they generally don’t exist. When I take the stage, I generally know what I’m going to start with and how I’m going to end a set. What happens in between is almost entirely driven by a combination of my instincts and my relationship with the audience.”

To kindle this relationship, Ainslie takes the time to meet with people in the audience before the show, instead of waiting until curtain time, waling on stage and starting to play, as many performers do.

“I always go out to meet people before the show. It allows me to know who I’m going to be playing for and it influences my choices. We are in this together,” said Ainslie.

This does not mean that he will play any and all requests for people’s favorite songs.

“When asked for a favorite song by someone, I will make note of it without a promise that it will be in the set. In that sense, there is no ‘show.’ We are sharing a space and a couple hours of our lives together. We influence each other. A request will become part of that dance, whether I play the tune or not.

“In between songs, my attention is on the audience. Somewhere in their faces, I find the next tune.”

While Ainslie may not have a complete set list, his knowledge of the blues gives him many blues songs to choose from. In 1967, when he was only 15, he heard Piedmont Blues musician John Jackson play three songs.

“I view the work of an artist the way a Shaman or Griot might regard their work in a more traditional society. In some tangible and intangible ways, we hold up a mirror to the world, the society, or an individual and we ask, ‘Are you happy with this? This is who we are. Are we Doing Well? Could we do better?’”
– Scott Ainslie

Continue Reading

Thoughts on “Slave Nation”

Slave Nation:
How Slavery United the Colonies
& Sparked the American Revolution

SlaveNation coverAlfred W. & Ruth G. Blumrosen, (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2005).

by Scott Ainslie

Fiat Justitia, Ruat Coelum [1]*
[Latin: Let Justice be done, though the heavens may fall.]

No one in America – black, white, red, yellow, or brown – gets to grow up without having to struggle in some way with racism, and attending issues pegged to the color of one’s skin.

This very stubborn truth troubled the authors of Slave Nation.

Continue Reading

Gateway To Freedom

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

Eric Foner (©2015, W. W. Norton & Company)

Gateway To Freedom Book CoverHistorian Eric Foner has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Lincoln Prize for his distinguished works on the Civil War period of American history. As the Dewitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, he has consistently brought little known histories to light and with Gateway to Freedom, he does so again.

Integrating fresh evidence–including a secretly kept accounting of escapees created by Sydney Howard Gay, one of the key figures in the New York City network of organizers and activists who were helping escaped slaves to freedom–Foner carefully exposes the myths about the Underground Railroad and elevates it from folklore to history. Americans, who are more interested in our actual history than the mythology that generally obscures it, will enjoy this work.

Continue Reading

First You Make a Roux - Gumbo!

What about the recipes?

We’ve combined the content from ScottAinslie.com and CattailMusic.com into this new site, but friends panicked because they didn’t see the link to Scott’s other site: What’s Scott Cooking Tonight?

The cooking blog hasn’t gotten much attention lately, but the recipes are still there, so if you need a refresher on the New York Times no-knead bread, or Barb’s fancy braided “Bert’s Coffee Cake”, or the encouragement to try gumbo…. head on over to cooking.cattailmusic.com!

glass slide on guitarist's pinky

Choosing a Slide for Slide Guitar

Mass, Hardness, Materials, Fit

Slides are widely available in different designs, materials, and sizes. These comments will hopefully save you from buying slides that will not serve you well and save you from picking a musical tool that might discourage you from pursuing slide in your musical life. Continue Reading

Last Shot Got Him – Living Blues Review

by Frank Matheis
March Issue, Living Blues Magazine

Last Shot Got Him [has Scott Ainslie] putting down six swift Mississippi John Hurt songs, paying homage to the old master starting with The First Shot Missed Him.

There has been a flurry of John Hurt covers lately, some lovely and some over the top with weird phonetic mimicking of Hurt’s voice and dialect that seem almost farcically, culturally misplaced, but Ainslie sings Hurt with dignity and does justice to him musically and artistically. It’s a respectful tribute with superior guitar instrumentation.

He captures Hurt’s music closely to the original while making it his own, bringing on Avalon Blues, Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me, Honey Right Away, Got the Blues and Monday Morning Blues and every moment is a sweet spot.

He has perfectly mastered the lilting, syncopated, alternating bass-picking style of Hurt. Ainslie wakes up that Gibson and makes it chime and ring, with his fingers dancing over the fretboard in a away that this guitar may not have experienced in its 80 years of life. Continue Reading

Scott Ainslie: Striking a thoughtful chord

Post Local section of The Washington Post

By Pamela Constable, February 9 at 5:56 PM

One recent evening, while much of the world seemed to be captivated by Taylor Swift, I was lucky enough to escape to a nondescript diner in Rockville, along with about 30 other people, for a riveting and thought-provoking performance by Scott Ainslie, a graying but nimble folk singer and composer from rural Vermont whose music I had come to know through mutual friends in Chincoteague.

Scott is the kind of musician they don’t make any more, in the mold of the late Pete Seeger – unpretentious, dead serious about his craft, dedicated to preserving traditional American music and instruments, unabashedly faithful to left-liberal values, and so versatile he can make you weep one moment over the story of a dying steel town (“all these houses for sale, and ain’t none of them sold”) and snicker appreciatively the next at a driving Mississippi blues song full of earthy innuendo. Continue Reading

Barns of Rose Hill, Berryville, VA

Ainslie in Winchester VA

Guitarist tells stories through pickin’ strings

By Stephen Nielsen
The Winchester Star, Thursday, February 5, 2015

BERRYVILLE–The Barns of Rose Hill is spreading the blues with a guitar workshop and concert by professional musician Scott Ainslie.

“I think it’s a great way for people to learn from a master,” said Kelli Hart, executive director of the Barns. “As long as you can play, he can teach you something on slide techniques.”

Ainslie is a traditional acoustic blues signer, guitarist, historian, and songwriter. He is a graduate of Washington & Lee University and has studied in the old-time southern Appalachian fiddle and banjo traditions as well as with black gospel and blues musicians, according to scottainslie.com. Continue Reading

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