Can blues help us survive the Great Recession?
Larry Hill Taylor, West Side blues singer and drummer, and myself as co-author are out there raising both questions and spirits, playing a few blues tunes while we discuss his autobiography, Stepson of the Blues: A Chicago Song of Survival. I co-authored the book, which deals with a heritage bluesman's struggle to survive and recognized for his music.
The eccentric writer Kurt Vonnegut, before he passed three years ago, wrote that blues and jazz, the music of African Americans, is one of America''s greatest contributions, and that "the remedy to our worldwide epidemic of depression is the blues."
One of the few books dealing with the generation of blues musicians following the Great Migration, Stepson of the Blues points out that blues helped African Americans survive harsh working conditions and racial persecution in the Jim Crow South. If you look for it, you’ll find this older form of Black music doing the same thing in little holes in the wall on the South and West Side today. But for the music to survive, the musicians themselves must be able to make a living and appear on the radio, in the community, in the schools. Keep the blues alive? You gotta keep the musicians alive. And that's not always easy, since a lot of them come from rough backgrounds. But they're tough. All they need is a little help from fans.
Larry Taylor grew up in North Lawndale during the 1950s and 60s, with blues musicians for parents and Black Panthers for neighbors. He survived gangs, family abuse, prison, and drugs. But he’s still taking a beating in the music business for speaking out about racial discrimination against (of all things!) emerging African American blues artists.
Chicago’s blues musicians are an under-appreciated cultural and economic resource. As Larry and other musicians have pointed out, “Unless our music starts to get on the radio more, and in the schools, our kids won’t have the chance to know it.”
We were glad for the chance to bring up these ideas beginning in October at the Books Ink Author Showcase at Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, and at the WVON Writer's Walk at DuSable Museum. Our talk Oct. 20, 2010, at Beverly Library on the southwest side of Chicago was taped and shown several times on citywide CAN-TV. Larry was interviewed on WVON's late night blues show Jan. 22 by Henry Cheatham, substituting for Pervis Spann. Bonni was interviewed Jan. 14 by Joanne Cole on her blues show on KGNU, Boulder, CO. We're visiting 18 Chicago area libraries and community centers for a Black History Month tour in February 2011.
Larry and/or I are available to give book talks at book clubs, community groups, schools and churches. More info at the website: www.stepsonoftheblues.com