Many thanks to ARSC DEI Committee Co-chair, Allison McClanahan of Indiana University for an excellent resource she’s brought to my attention < <>>. Its home page states: “This is a living collection of books, articles, documentaries, series, podcasts and more about the Black origins of traditional and popular music dating from the 18th century to present day. Resources are organized chronologically and by genre for ease of browsing.”

And on a related subject, I’d be remiss not to mention the 100th anniversary this month of a recording that, “changed the course of music history,” an appraisal shared by music critic and cultural historian David Hajdu in the NYT < <>>. 

The event on Aug. 10, 1920: Mamie Smith and Perry Bradford went into a New York studio and recorded “Crazy Blues,” released on Okeh Records #4169. Bradford wrote the song, but it was Mamie Smith, in her urgent contralto, who sang out the story of a woman driven mad by abuse. The record electrified Black listeners and within a month of its release had sold some 75,000 copies. According to Hajdu, it eventually sold more than two million copies. 

Smith and Bradford’s work is foundational to the phenomenal growth of blues in America. The NYT’s article has a wonderful reproduction of the sheet music cover: “Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds.” At 1.2 MB (with a few slight Photoshop adjustments) it’s worth framing. “Crazy Blues” can also be heard on YouTube, audio courtesy of the Chicago Blues Museum < <>>. CBM lets you hear the song in full, but on some lyric websites “Crazy Blues” is oddly abridged (read censored). 

The lyrics can be found in full on International Lyrics Playground < <>>. 

Allison’s recommended source at the top has, among so many other terrific things, an excerpt from James Baldwin: The Last Interview. The transcript is part of a conversation Studs Terkel had with Baldwin who shares a little of the impact Mamie Smith had on his life < <>>.

Alex McGehee