Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941-1942

Overview

This remarkable book recovers three invaluable perspectives, long thought to have been lost, on the culture and music of the Mississippi Delta.

In 1941 and '42 African American scholars from Fisk University—among them the noted composer and musicologist John W. Work, sociologist Lewis Wade Jones, and graduate student Samuel C. Adams, Jr.—joined folklorist Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress on research trips to Coahoma County, Mississippi. Their mission was to explore the ...

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Overview

This remarkable book recovers three invaluable perspectives, long thought to have been lost, on the culture and music of the Mississippi Delta.

In 1941 and '42 African American scholars from Fisk University—among them the noted composer and musicologist John W. Work, sociologist Lewis Wade Jones, and graduate student Samuel C. Adams, Jr.—joined folklorist Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress on research trips to Coahoma County, Mississippi. Their mission was to explore the musical habits and history of the black community there and "to document adequately the cultural and social backgrounds for music in the community." Among the fruits of the project were the earliest recordings by the legendary blues singer and guitarist Muddy Waters. The hallmark of the study was to have been a joint publication of its findings by Fisk and the Library of Congress. However, the field notes and manuscripts by the Fisk researchers became lost in Washington. Lomax's own book drawing on the project's findings, The Land Where the Blues Began, did not appear until 1993, and although it won a National Book Critics Circle Award, it was flawed by a number of historical inaccuracies.

Recently uncovered by author and filmmaker Robert Gordon, the writings, interviews, notes, and musical transcriptions produced by Work, Jones, and Adams in the Coahoma County study now appear in print for the first time. Their work captures, with compelling immediacy, a place, a people, a way of life, and a set of rich musical traditions as they existed sixty years ago. Until the surfacing of these documents, Lomax's perspective was all that was known of the Coahoma County project and its research. Now, at last, the voices of the other contributors can be heard.

Including essays by Bruce Nemerov and Gordon on the careers and contributions of Work, Jones, and Adams, Lost Delta Found will become an indispensable historical resource, as marvelously readable as it is enlightening.

Illustrated with photos and more than 160 musical transcriptions.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Book restores credit for the definitive Delta-blues research to the men who conducted it
PASTE Magazine

. . . these original documents . . . paint a compellingly accurate portrait of the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s. . . . Work, Jones, and Adams are finally getting their due at a time when Mississippi seems consumed with righting its past wrongs . . .
Mojo (5-star review)

Gordon and Nemerov have rescued from oblivion an important study of black life in rural Mississippi. . . . Work's 160 song transcriptions of 1941-1942 field recordings form the 100-page centerpiece of this book, and equally illuminating are insightful essays by the Fisk trio on plantation folklore and traditions, already fading at that time as urban influences permeated the Mississippi Delta.
Publishers Weekly

. . . splendid and significant . . . Work was instrumental in uncovering and giving the work of bluesmen Muddy Waters, Son House, Son Sims, and Willie Brown to the world; every library that owns [Alan Lomax's book The Land Where the Blues Began] should own this one, too. An essential purchase for music collections . . .
Library Journal (starred review)

This may well be the greatest unpublished goldmine of early research into the music of black Mississippians, and its appearance is a boon not only to music scholars but to anyone interested in Southern life in a period of intense change and musical expression.
Sing Out!

Publishers Weekly
Gordon and Nemerov have rescued from oblivion an important study of black life in rural Mississippi. Famed folklorist Alan Lomax (1915-2002) won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1993 for The Land Where the Blues Began, his memoir about recording Southern blues music 50 years earlier. Lomax, however, made scant mention of his research associates, three African-American scholars from Fisk University in Nashville-composer-musicologist Work, sociologist Jones and graduate student Adams-who made significant, valuable contributions. Work's 160 song transcriptions of 1941-1942 field recordings form the 100-page centerpiece of this book, and equally illuminating are insightful essays by the Fisk trio on plantation folklore and traditions, already fading at that time as urban influences permeated the Mississippi Delta. Although a joint Fisk-Library of Congress publication was originally planned, the once-lost Fisk manuscripts have never seen print until now. More than a few editorial comments hint at the conflicts involving Lomax: "That the manuscripts were found in the Lomax archives six decades after they went missing may reveal much about how research is, and is not, shared, attributed, and published." Photos. (Aug. 30) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In April 1940, a fire ripped through a dancehall in Natchez, MS, killing 200 people and forever scarring the minds and bodies of the survivors. Fisk University musicologist Work proposed a fieldwork project in the Delta to record the musical reactions to this catastrophe. Having already built a notable private collection of Negro call-and-response singing in east Tennessee, he seemed like the perfect choice. Through a series of events, Work lost control of the project to Alan Lomax, then the assistant in charge at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, who had been called in to assist Work. Lomax's now-famous book, The Land Where the Blues Began (1993), mentions Work's contributions only three times. In this splendid and significant study, editors Gordon (Can't Be Satisfied: The Life of Muddy Waters) and Nemerov (The Story Behind the Song) recover and reproduce Work's transcriptions of spirituals, work songs, musical games, and sermons, as well as Samuel C. Adams's and Lewis Wade Jones's sociological studies of the Delta. Work was instrumental in uncovering and giving the work of bluesmen Muddy Waters, Son House, Son Sims, and Willie Brown to the world; every library that owns Lomax's book should own this one, too. An essential purchase for music collections in large public and academic libraries.-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826514851
  • Publisher: Vanderbilt University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 316
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 10.38 (h) x 1.33 (d)

Meet the Author

John W. Work (1901-1966) was a gifted composer and educator. One of the first African American academics to argue the value of African American folk music, he preserved this heritage both in his book, American Negro Songs and Spirituals, and through his work with the Fisk Jubilee Singers, which he directed from 1947 until 1956. He retired from Fisk University in 1966

Lewis Wade Jones (1910-1979) was an instructor in the Department of Social Sciences at Fisk University from 1932 to 1942, where he worked closely with Charles S. Johnson. In 1949 the two co-wrote A Statistical Analysis of Southern Counties: Shifts in the Negro Population of Alabama. After leaving Fisk, Jones moved to the Tuskegee Institute School of Education, where he was a professor of sociology.

After receiving his master's degree from Fisk University, Samuel C. Adams, Jr. (1920-2001) attended the University of Chicago, where he received his PhD in 1953. He had a long and distinguished career in public service, highlighted by his appointment to the post of Ambassador to the Republic of Niger in 1968-1969

Robert Gordon is the author of Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters, among other books. He directed the PBS documentary "Muddy Waters: Can't Be Satisfied" and was writer on the Memphis episode of Martin Scorsese's "The Blues" series.

Bruce Nemerov was a professional musician / record producer / composer from 1969-1991 before joining the Center for Popular Music at MTSU. He is also the author of the new book "The Story Behind the Song: 150 Songs That Chronicle the 20th Century" (Greenwood Press, 2004). Describes himself as "Born in the North / Raised in the South / Schooled out West / Ain't dead yet."

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Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments

Preface from Robert Gordone
Introductory Chapter from Gordon and Nemerov

Introduction to Jones by Nemerov
'The Mississippi Delta' by Lewis W. Jones

Introduction to Work by Nemerov.
John Work manuscript, untitled

The discussion of Charles Haffer includes three sheets of his broadsides.
158 music original transcriptions.

Introduction to Adams by Nemerov
'Changing Negro Life in the Delta' by Samuel C. Adams

Appendices

1. The Natchez fire
2. A memorandum about the July trip to Coahoma County
3. Report on Preliminary Work in Clarksdale, Mississippi
4. Memorandum from Jones to Johnson
5. List of songs on Clarksdale jukeboxes

Bibliography

Index

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