Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, The Untold Story of an American Legend

Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, The Untold Story of an American Legend

5.0 3
by Scott Reynolds Nelson
     
 

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ISBN-10: 0195341198

ISBN-13: 9780195341195

Pub. Date: 08/04/2008

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA


The ballad "John Henry" is the most recorded folk song in American history and John Henry--the mighty railroad man who could blast through rock faster than a steam drill--is a towering figure in our culture.
In Steel Drivin' Man, Scott Reynolds Nelson recounts the true story of the man behind the iconic American hero, telling the poignant tale of a

Overview


The ballad "John Henry" is the most recorded folk song in American history and John Henry--the mighty railroad man who could blast through rock faster than a steam drill--is a towering figure in our culture.
In Steel Drivin' Man, Scott Reynolds Nelson recounts the true story of the man behind the iconic American hero, telling the poignant tale of a young Virginia convict who died working on one of the most dangerous enterprises of the time, the first rail route through the Appalachian Mountains. Using census data, penitentiary reports, and railroad company reports, Nelson reveals how John Henry, victimized by Virginia's notorious Black Codes, was shipped to the infamous Richmond Penitentiary to become prisoner number 497, and was forced to labor on the mile-long Lewis Tunnel for the C&O railroad. Equally important, Nelson masterfully captures the life of the ballad of John Henry, tracing the song's evolution from the first printed score by blues legend W. C. Handy, to Carl Sandburg's use of the ballad to become the first "folk singer," to the upbeat version by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Attractively illustrated with numerous images, Steel Drivin' Man offers a marvelous portrait of a beloved folk song--and a true American legend.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195341195
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
08/04/2008
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
252,108
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1: The Search for John Henry
Ch. 2: To the White House
Ch. 3: Wiseman's Grocery
Ch.4: Ward-Well
Ch. 5: Man Versus Mountain
Ch. 6: The Southern Railway Octopus
Ch. 7: Songs People Have Sung: 1900-1930
Ch. 8: Communist Strongman
Coda
Notes
Acknowledgments
Index

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Steel Drivin' Man : John Henry: the Untold Story of an American Legend 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It has a sad ending but other than that its a good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Try it.
2nchance More than 1 year ago
Wonderful, readable story that not only explains the song, but gathers a wealth of detail about a likely "John Henry" caught in a web of post-civil war Southern law that was a virtual death sentence; especially because he would not slow down! Author Nelson mixes in his interest and background as historian and archivist with his discovery of the details of the likely John Henry. These detail explain some of the Song's imagery (The White House turns out to be a building at the state prison)and how convicts became "contract labor" for the Southern railroads. Then Nelson talks about how the debt to build those railroads was shifted back to the public, helping to impoverish Southern states thereafter. After all the historical detail, Nelson then goes on to explore how the song about John Henry was used by the communists, labor unions, civil rights workers and folk artists. A wonderful weaving of historical facts about race in America with the development of a mythical expression of anger and heroism. Highly recommended.