‘Blues America’ Documentary comes to the UConn Libraries

One misconception we wanted to clear up is to show the history of the blues is much more than the story of lonesome men playing guitars. — Mick Gold, Director and Producer

A new BBC two-part history of the blues, Blues America, produced and directed by Mick Gold, takes you from W.C. Handy’s encounter with street performers of the blues in the early 1900s, through decades of sounds that defined the genre, to President Obama celebrating the blues in the White House in 2012.

Gold interviewed UConn Libraries donor Samuel Charters for the production, who in 1959 was one of a number of “blues hunters” who went on “a quest to unearth the real blues” during the blues revival that swept the early 1960s.  The research resulted in the pivotal work The Country Blues, book and LP, and an accompanying film “The Blues,” in which Charters chronicled his meeting with musicians in the south. In his interview for Blues America, Charters noted that “it was an incredible adventure. This was one of the most exciting periods of my life.”

“What I wanted to get was the sense of wonder I had that I could knock on a door and the door could open and there would be a man…he’d say come on in, I’ll play for you…and my feeling was, get every voice I can, get every verse I can, get every word I can.”

That interest in documenting and preserving not only blues musicians but also other African American musical genres has led to the Samuel and Ann Charters Archives of Blues and Vernacular African American Musical Culture, donated to Archives & Special Collections at the UConn Libraries in 2000. The collection is known for its blues sources but covers jazz, ragtime, gospel, Caribbean, Cajun and Zydeco and rap and hip hop, from African-American spirituals to Tupac Shakur. The Archives holds thousands of hours of recorded music on LP, 45 rpm and 78 rpm records, compact discs, audio cassettes, and reel-to-reel tapes.

In addition to his own collection, Charters has gathered recordings from the catalogs of record companies started by other music collectors, the complete catalog of Chris Strachwitz’s Arhoolie records, recordings from Bill Belmont’s Fantasy Records and, most recently, the catalog of Gary Atkinson’s Document Records.

“The BBC documentary reminds us that the history of the blues is more complex than we may have been led to believe.  Future hunters who quest for authenticity, or the forgotten, or seek to redefine owe a debt to the collectors of the past.  The availability of sources through the commitment of institutions to insure their preservation over time is in some ways more important than their interpretation.  Future generations of researchers will redefine and reinterpret the blues and, as discoveries have occurred before, they will happen again and again.” — Kristin Eshelman, Curator

Blues America is currently available on YouTube. Blues America, Part 1 “Woke up this Morning” http://youtu.be/tDsWXx2t8Dk; Blues America, Part 2 “Bright Lights, Big City”  http://youtu.be/sgEmtzfW_9c

More information about the Charters Archives can be found at: http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/asc/findaids/charters/MSS20000105.html

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