Fictional Blues

Fictional Blues

Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White

African American Intellectual History

by Kimberly Mack

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

264 pages, 3 b&w illus.

  • Paperback
  • 9781625345509
  • Published: December 2020

$28.95

BUY
  • Hardcover
  • 9781625345493
  • Published: December 2020

$90.00

BUY
The familiar story of Delta blues musician Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil at a Mississippi crossroads in exchange for guitar virtuosity, and the violent stereotypes evoked by legendary blues “bad men” like Stagger Lee undergird the persistent racial myths surrounding “authentic” blues expression. Fictional Blues unpacks the figure of the American blues performer, moving from early singers such as Ma Rainey and Big Mama Thornton to contemporary musicians such as Amy Winehouse, Rhiannon Giddens, and Jack White to reveal that blues makers have long used their songs, performances, interviews, and writings to invent personas that resist racial, social, economic, and gendered oppression.

Using examples of fictional and real-life blues artists culled from popular music and literary works from writers such as Walter Mosley, Alice Walker, and Sherman Alexie, Kimberly Mack demonstrates that the stories blues musicians construct about their lives (however factually slippery) are inextricably linked to the “primary story” of the narrative blues tradition, in which autobiography fuels musicians’ reclamation of power and agency.