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John Work III - Recording Black Culture

Center for Popular Music
John Work III - Recording Black Culture
[John Work] argued that our appreciation of the black roots music of the era would have been greatly enriched had the writings of the researchers reached a wider audience. With the release of Recording Black Culture, an album consisting largely of newly unearthed acetates made by one of the collectors, John Work III, we now have the music itself to buttress this claim. Mr. Work, the most eminent of the black folklorists, was not merely an acolyte of Mr. Lomax but clearly had ideas of his own. Where Mr. Lomax tended to treat black vernacular music as an artifact in need of preservation, Mr. Work sought to document it as it was unfolding. Thus on Recording Black Culture, instead of spirituals harking back to the 19th century, we hear febrile gospel shouting set to the cadences of what soon would become rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll. Robert Gordon, who edited Lost Delta Found with Bruce Nemerov, cites the hot, driving piano on Mr. Work's recording of a group of Primitive Baptist women singing a song called I Am His, He Is Mine, as an example. 'There is nascent boogie-woogie in that music', said Mr. Gordon, who has also written a biography of the blues singer Muddy Waters, whom Mr. Work and Mr. Lomax recorded on their trip to Coahoma County, Miss., in 1941. That piano would have made many loyal churchgoers angry: a harbinger of the response to R&B and rock 'n' roll. The pressing harmonic and rhythmic interplay of the Heavenly Gate Quartet singing If I Had My Way offers further evidence of this evolution. The heavy syncopation heard there and in Mr. Work's recording of the Fairfield Four's Walk Around in Dry Bones presage doo-wop a good decade before vocal groups like the Clovers and the Coasters would establish it as the soundtrack for young black America in the 1950s.
Stock number:SFR-104 Price:$15.00

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