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Etta Baker is Worth Listening To–And She’s Also a Great Musician


I had never heard of Etta Baker before hearing a clip on Facebook. My loss. She initially reminded me of Elizabeth Cotten, but Baker clearly is unique.

I’ve only heard a couple of David Holt interviews, but the guy is terrific. Here is more on Baker:

Born into a musical family on March 13th, 1913, Etta Lucille Reid, grew up in Caldwell County, North Carolina, one of eight children in the Reid family. Etta learned to play hymns, rags, parlor music, and Tin Pan Alley songs from her father, who had learned to play music from his father. A multi-instrumentalist, equally adept at playing piano, violin, guitar and banjo, the young Etta often played at dances and parties around Caldwell County with her father and sister.

Etta gave up most of her public performing when she married Lee Baker in 1936, but she continued to play for her family and friends and at home for her nine children.

A chance meeting in 1956 with Paul Clayton while Etta and Lee were on vacation led to Etta’s first appearance on a recording. Paul Clayton was collecting field recordings when he discovered Etta. Etta, her father, and brother-in-law Lacey Phillips along with Hobart Smith and Richard Chase appeared on Clayton’s record Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians. This record was said to influence many rising stars like Bob Dylan and Taj Mahal during the 60’s folk revival.

Grateful Dead Fans will recognize the first tune in the above clip.

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Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.