Blues Resources

See also: Teacher Study GuidesBlues Notes, Guitar Resources, and Mississippi John Hurt TAB.

This page brings together many resources on Blues History.


The 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



Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

Eric Foner
©2015, W. W. Norton & Company
Historian 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. More

SlaveNation cover

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

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

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.

Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta (Robert Palmer): A highly readable, anecdotal tour of the Delta’s geography, personalities, customs and history told from a musician’s perspective. Palmer explores the history and evolution of the blues as music, as well as the society and culture from which it sprang.  The book is filled with colorful stories and acecdotes on the blues, including Muddy Waters, the story of Robert Johnson, the Band, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike an Tina Turner, Charlie Patton, and others.
The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (Nicholas Lemann): The best analysis of America’s own Black Diaspora that took place between 1940 and the early 1960’s. Lemann follows specific Black families out of the deep South and into the urban North with remarkable insight and compassion. A classic of contemporary history, this book is vivid, heartfelt and features a brilliant analysis of the social, political and cultural forces at work.  A New York Times bestseller, the groundbreaking authoritative history of the migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North. A definitive book on American history, The Promised Land is also essential reading for educators and policymakers at both national and local levels.
Roll, Jordan, Roll (Eugene D. Genovese): A comprehensive interdisciplinary examination of “the world that the slaves made”. This book presents an eloquent look at black and white power dynamics in the slave period and the forces they set loose in Southern culture and society.
Robert Johnson/At The Crossroads (Scott Ainslie): Guitar transcriptions, annotated lyrics, historical introductory notes to each of Johnson’s songs and a biography highlight this ground breaking work on Mississippi’s most famous blues legend. Praised for its scholarship, as well as the accuracy of its transcriptions, this book has a place on the shelves of historians and musicians, alike. (NOTE: Sadly, this book is out of print. sometimes has used copies available at reasonable prices. I periodically buy back my work in order to have copies around.)
Rising Tide: The 1927 Flood of the Mississippi and How It Changed America (John Barry): This is another epic cross-disciplinary study of events in the Mississippi River valley that stretches across two centuries and cultures. This is one of the most influential (and readable) books I have read in the last decade.
Roots ‘n Blues (Columbia/Legacy): CD Boxed Set. White and black roots for American Blues including mountain string band, early country, gospel, primitive blues, cajun music and early rhythm and blues.
Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings (Sony/Columbia): CD Boxed Set.   All 41 surviving takes of the twenty-nine songs recorded by this Mississippi Blues legend in the 1930’s which upon their re-release in 1962 literally changed the direction of rock through the work of Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin and others. Other artists: Son House, Muddy Waters, Blind Blake, Jimmy Reed, J.B. Lenoir, Bukka White, B.B. King, Leadbelly (Deeper South); and Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee (Durham); Libba Cotten and Etta Baker (NC). [The Centennial Reissue of Johnson’s recordings is probably the highest quality pressing you will ever hear: with headphones on you can hear Johnson turn his head away from the microphone while he’s singing a line, I assume to look at the guitar neck…]
“North Carolina Blues, Parts 1 & 2” (Living Blues Magazine, February and April, 1993) Profiles of living blues musicians from all across the state, a valuable resource! Available from Living Blues, University of Mississippi, University, MS 38677, or e-mail
Interview: Scott Ainslie (Acoustic Musician, October, 1995) An interview that exposes much of the background and social context of blues and addresses some of the issues that Blues music faces today.  Available from Acoustic Musician Magazine, PO Box 1349, New Market, VA 22844-1349, or e-mail
The Land Where The Blues Began (Alan Lomax) An unequaled video introduction to the American musical and cultural background of Mississippi Delta Blues (a companion to Lomax’s book by the same name).  Set in an era as harsh and fertile as Delta silt, The Land Where the Blues Began reveals how the river of African-American culture overtook its repressive banks–to give us R & B, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, and the only purely American art form, the blues. Alan Lomax takes us on an adventure into the “bad old days” of the post-slavery, Jim Crow Mississippi Delta–the birthplace of the blues–when railroads and levees were being built and cotton boomed at the expense of Southern working-class African Americans. Singing of their misery and their barely concealed rage, the Bluesman enlisted their African heritage to keep their souls alive and in the process created the first satirical song form in the English language. We meet Muddy Waters (the father of modern blues), learn how Robert Johnson met his end, and are introduced to Fred McDowell and Son House, who taught Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton how to play the blues.
The Search For Robert Johnson (John Hammond)A (DVD) video tour of the Delta with blues artist John Hammond as your host, examining the haunts and few existing acquaintances of this blues legend.

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