Home » Samuel Charters, a Chronicler of the Blues, Dies at 85

Samuel Charters, a Chronicler of the Blues, Dies at 85

Samuel Charters, a very important historian of the blues, died March 11. He was 85 years old.

This is from his profile at Wikipedia:

Charters had for years been doing research into the history of jazz, but in the 1950s he also began to study the blues. Noticing that his copy of the bluesman Robert Johnson’s recordings were recorded in San Antonio, Charters set out for Texas in 1953 to discover what he could about Robert Johnson, but also about another favorite musician, Blind Willie Johnson. For Charters and his wife, Ann Charters, the search for Robert Johnson began years of doing field recordings (initially for Folkways Records throughout the United States, and then in the Bahamas in 1958 where he made the first recordings of Joseph Spence). Their 1959 recordings of the Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins proved instrumental to Hopkins’ rediscovery. Also in 1959, Charters published his very influential book The Country Blues, the first history of blues and an absorbing account of his search for the bluesmen themselves, as well as issuing the companion album to accompany it.

During the years of field work in the 1950s that lead to the publication of The Country Blues, Charters always felt overwhelmed with the amount of work required to properly document the music of black Americans and hoped that his writing would encourage others to join him. “I always had the feeling that there were so few of us, and the work so vast. That’s why I wrote the books as I did — to romanticize the glamor of looking for old blues singers. I was saying, ‘Help! This job is really big, and I really need lots of help!’ I really exaggerated this, but it worked! My God, I came back from that year in Europe and I found kids doing research in the South . . . They almost all came to me at some point, they wrote me a letter saying this is what I’m doing.” (Ismail, 2011, p. 259)

The very interesting featurette above was made at the University of Connecticut, which houses the Samuel and Ann Charters Archives of Blues and Vernacular African American Musical Culture.

Homepage image: RFF Records via The New York Times.


Our New Things: Links to Music Sites and Info on Analog Tech and Vinyl

TDMB has focused on music and musicians. We will continue to do that, of course. We're also expanding our coverage to include vinyl and analog equipment.

More specifically, we'll look at this huge and interesting world from the perspective of music lovers who want a better experience, not committed non-audiophiles.

Check out is some of what we've written so far:

-- Assessing the Value of Vinyl Records: An Overview

-- 7 Quick Tips on Optimizing Your Turntable Cartridge

-- Why Vinyl Records Continue to Thrive

-- Finding the Best Amplifier

-- Finding the Best Phono Preamp

-- What Speakers Do I Need for My Turntable?

Check out more articles on analog equipment and vinyl.

The site also is home to The Internet Music Mapping Project, an effort to list and describe as many music-related sites as possible.

Our Music

--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.

Full Disclosure

As an Amazon affiliate, this site earns a commission on every purchase made. All prices remain the same to you.