B. B. Gets His Own Museum

EIGHTY-THREE-YEAR-OLD B. B. King figures that he traveled some 60,000 miles behind a mule in the Mississippi Delta before an appearance on a West Memphis radio program in 1948 caused his career as a blues musician to take off Indianola, Mississippi, the location of his last plantation job at a cotton gin, now honors the international star and multiple Grammy Awards winner with his own museum, the 20,000-square-foot B. B. King Museum and Interpretive Center.Read more »

Popular Culture

“Popular culture” is not the opposite of or the alternative to something called “high culture.” It is not degraded, debased, simple, or undisciplined. Nor is it defined primarily by its mass appeal or commercial values. It is not the size of the audience Aa* is important but its diversity.Read more »

Memphis

A gracious antebellum city of stern-wheelers and cotton money; a restless, violent city with a hot grain of genius at its heart; a city of calamity, desolation, and rebirth; a city that changed the way the whole world hears music. It’s all the same city, and it is this year’s Great American Place. Thomas Childers answers a summons to Memphis, Tennessee.

Bales of cotton no longer accumulate along the riverbank, but a small fleet of stern-wheelers still serves the Memphis waterfront.
 

When the phone rang and I heard the familiar voice of an old family friend inviting me to visit him in his hometown of Memphis, I was intrigued.

 

Agents Of Change

You’ve probably never heard of them, but these ten people changed your life. Each of them is a big reason why your world today is so different from anyone’s world in 1954

For want of nails, kingdoms are won and lost. We all know that. The shoe slips, the horse stumbles, the army dissolves in retreat. But who designed the nails? Who hammered the nails? Who invented the nail-making machinery? Who figured out how to market the nails in neat plastic blister packs hung from standardized wire racks in hardware stores? • The house of history, that clever balloon frame of statistics and biographies in which we shelter our sense of tradition, of progress, of values gained and lost, is nailed together with anonymity.Read more »

The Mother Of Us All

Ethel Waters was an innovative and terrifically influential singer, and she broke through racial barriers in movies, theater, nightclubs, radio, film, and television, opening doors for everyone who came after her. She deserves to be much better remembered.

The greatest nostalgia of all is that which we feel for what we have never known,” an elderly English journalist told me when I wondered aloud why I, a 1960s rock ’n’ roll child, had become obsessed with 1930s jazz. I first discovered old Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith records as a student in Paris in the early 1970s, and I listened to each song over and over before going on to the next. I camped out with sandwiches in art cinemas there, sitting through repeated showings of Fred Astaire and Busby Berkeley musicals, scribbling down lyrics and memorizing tunes.Read more »

Seeking The Greatest Bluesman

Robert Johnson died in obscurity in 1938; since then he has gradually gained recognition as a genius of American music. Only recently have the facts of his short, tragic life become known.

Who was Robert Johnson? For so many years that question haunted all of us who loved the blues. Certainly we knew about Robert Johnson’s music. He had time to make only a handful of recordings before he died at the age of twenty-seven in 1938, and outside of the small towns of the Mississippi Delta country where he had grown up he was almost completely unknown.Read more »