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Longleaf Combined University Press Titles Fall/Winter 2020

Whose Blues?
Facing Up to Race and the Future of the Music
By (author): Adam Gussow
Adam Gussow


The University of North Carolina Press



Product Form:


Form detail:

Paperback , Trade


General Trade
Oct 19, 2020
$53.95 CAD


9.12in x 6.12 x 0.75 in | 500 gr

Page Count:

332 pages


30 halftones
The University of North Carolina Press
MUSIC / Ethnomusicology
Mamie Smith's pathbreaking 1920 recording of "Crazy Blues" set the pop music world on fire, inaugurating a new African American market for "race records." Not long after, such records also brought black blues performance to an expanding international audience. A century later, the mainstream blues world has transformed into a multicultural and transnational melting pot, taking the music far beyond the black southern world of its origins. But not everybody is happy about that. If there's "No black. No white. Just the blues," as one familiar meme suggests, why do some blues people hear such pronouncements as an aggressive attempt at cultural appropriation and an erasure of traumatic histories that lie deep in the heart of the music? Then again, if "blues is black music," as some performers and critics insist, what should we make of the vibrant global blues scene, with its all-comers mix of nationalities and ethnicities?

In Whose Blues?, award-winning blues scholar and performer Adam Gussow confronts these challenging questions head-on. Using blues literature and history as a cultural anchor, Gussow defines, interprets, and makes sense of the blues for the new millennium. Drawing on the blues tradition's major writers including W. C. Handy, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Amiri Baraka, and grounded in his first-person knowledge of the blues performance scene, Gussow's thought-provoking book kickstarts a long overdue conversation.

Adam Gussow is professor of English and southern studies at the University of Mississippi and author of four previous books on the blues, including Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition. He is currently appearing on Netflix in Satan & Adam, an award-winning documentary about his thirty-five-year partnership with Mississippi-born bluesman Sterling "Mr. Satan" Magee.

As a Black musician, I have often reflected on the dichotomy between Black bluesism and blues universalism. Whose music is it? Who profits from it? How is the next generation of blues artists being mentored? In a book that is as timely as it is illuminating, Adam Gussow has given us an excellent framework for considering these questions, and along the way he offers a rich, informative, and often myth-busting history of the complex story of blues and race.--Gene Dobbs Bradford, president and CEO, Jazz St. Louis

In Whose Blues?, Adam Gussow tackles the provocative reality of the blues. He ties the music's tortured history to the current racial climate and adds chapters on blues' place in African American literature and the Black Arts Movement. This is essential reading to better understand the power of the blues.--Art Tipaldi, editor, Blues Music Magazine

In an act of fidelity to the blues itself, Adam Gussow returns us to a fundamental question that sadly is often unspoken and repressed in today's everyday blues consciousness. Gussow, a blues performer and a man of deep reflection, busts open the silence but also cautions against unnecessary fights as he supports and intensifies struggles for equality in the blues.--"Sugar Brown" Ken Kawashima, University of Toronto

There really is nobody else like Adam Gussow, a blues harp virtuoso and first-rate scholar who tempers critical acuity with humor and generosity to all. In this soulful, bracingly clear-eyed book, he cuts through the heated feelings and bad faith surrounding the uncomfortable subject of music and race.--Carlo Rotella, Boston College

An insightful work that connects contemporary culture to an old-school genre." —Kirkus Reviews

Ably details the African American core of the blues and the shifting racial dynamics that have made the music so compelling to white Americans and blues fans in other cultures. Blues scholars will find the book illuminating." —Library Journal

Well-researched. . . . Another recommended book." —Steve Ramm, The Antique Phonograph

This thought-provoking work comes highly recommended for anyone interested in stepping beyond the music itself to gain a broader understanding of the forces that have fashioned it into a powerful musical form that transcends boundaries of all kinds." —Blues Blast Magazine

Whose Blues? is ambitious and challenging and opens up debate on a subject that must be addressed. . . . [Gussow's] literature survey and close readings are revelatory." —Robert H. Cataliotti, Living Blues

Gussow does a yeoman's job of mixing discussions of decades-long changing race relations with the emergence and development of the blues. Throughout, Gussow's reach is impressive as he incorporates discussion of the emergence of the blues into discourse on contemporary standouts . . . Essential."—CHOICE

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