Guitarchaeology and hidden black histories

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m an enthusiastic, if not very talented, player of the acoustic guitar. What I love just as much as playing is the history of these instruments and the music that they have made, and in the past I’ve linked this to the main topic of my blog, biodiversity: see this post on restoring an old guitar.

October is Black History Month in the UK so it seems fitting to share this bit of guitarchaeology: Robert Johnson and Johnny Shines in Steele Missouri – A Research Paper by John Seabaugh

In this video essay John pulls together what’s known, and what he has inferred, about a formative period in the lives of two iconic early blues musicians. Give it a read/listen, it’s really interesting.

John kindly sent me a PDF of the paper so I’ve had a chance to study it closely. What especially struck me was the table of Nightclubs in the Bootheel that appears 4 minutes into the video. John lists 28 nightclubs, the names of all but two of which are known from contemporary newspaper reports. The two unnamed clubs both had black owners.

It’s known from occasional written references and oral histories that there were many other music and drinking joints that were owned, and frequented, by the African-American population in this area. But in an era of strict racial segregation the names of these venues were not recorded in any of the white-run media. A big part of black social history is thus undocumented. And given the importance of black music from this time in shaping popular music around the world, the loss of this history is a tragic loss for everyone.  

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