Thursday, January 23, 2020

Deconstructing the Dockery Myth

B.B. King at Dockery Farms in the 1970s
In their “Response” (vol. 50, no. 1, Spring 2019) to T. DeWayne Moore’s article “Revisiting Ralph Lembo” (vol. 49, no. 2, Fall 2018), Edward Komara and Gayle Dean Wardlow cite my research and publications as the primary endorsement of their position that famed Mississippi blues artist Charley Patton was “discovered” and sent north to record for Paramount Records by H. C. Speir, as Wardlow has long claimed, rather than by Ralph Lembo, as suggested recently by Moore. I would like to clarify my position on this matter in the light of recent research, including Moore’s article. In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I provided advice and information to Moore in the preparation of his article, although its conclusions are his own. I regret that this matter of who “discovered” Patton may be currently overshadowing Patton’s own greatness as an artist, but the controversy is not trivial and actually has importance beyond Charley Patton. It speaks to issues of research methodology and the “established facts” that researchers accept and perpetuate, sometimes for decades.

By way of background for readers, Charley Patton first recorded for Paramount on June 14, 1929, at the Gennett studio in Richmond, Indiana. He made two subsequent recording sessions for Paramount in its new studio in Grafton, Wisconsin, in late January/early February 1930 and August 1930, and one session for American Record Corporation’s Vocalion label in New York City on January 30-31 and February 1, 1934. At the time of his first session Patton’s home was somewhere in the Delta in the northwestern part of Mississippi. Speir was based in Jackson, Mississippi, a hundred miles or more from Patton’s home. Lembo was based in Itta Bena, Mississippi, in the Delta. Both Speir and Lembo were the owners of music/record stores in their respective locations and had already sent or brought other African American musicians to recording studios. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Deep River [a Patton poem] by Habe Conlon

To whom it may concern-

Two September’s ago, during my first sophomore year of high school, my first assignment in my Honor’s English class was to pen out a poem. I wrote “Deep River” in approximately 4 minutes, and to this day I attribute this ease of the pen to Patton. Being only 15 at the time, I had known and heard Patton in song and had delved into his history, and I have realized how profound it really is. I am very thankful to have discovered Charley Patton and the rest of the Delta Blues denizens and the world they lived in relatively early in life. And I am very thankful for the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund and all involved in preserving the message, for research is respect indeed.

Deep River 
by Habe Conlon

               — along the palms of God’s hands, 
                   Dockery Plantation
                   (between Cleveland and Ruleville, MS)

Yesterday I found myself biding time
where billows of great aerial rain
comes down, hot stew and potatoes

I am here with sugarcane, and peas and so forth grow
shed by a beacon of lone smoke, stemming from
my pipe, a teepee sentinel worth dreaming of

The shanty rooftops, barns and even
the stills out back do little justice, on the sparks and
flames that seem to channel from the bottoms

of his feet, for a quarter you’d see and hear
him all night, it’d be dusty, the air glazed, stirred up
This man is a soldier, traveler into the blue, he flows like

a deep river, plantation desperado thinks to himself
simple thoughts, as the banty rooster only
stirs up more dust, the Delta sun quaking

Imitation train whistles echoing closer and
closer does this quaking not cease, with a
tighter grasp on moving on, and with that

our vagabond with guitar in hand weaves
a patchwork dream in hand, and into the night
he’s vanished, masked marvel out with the lantern flame

Some say he’s headed to the North, to play in the fiery bands
He’ll shake it and brake it in the palm of God’s hands.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Johnnie Billington: He taught the character of the Blues

Photo by Lou Bopp
By T.J. Wheeler

I was musing today about my old friend and Blues in the school com-patriot Mr. Johnnie Billington. Thinking over what a divine soul and teacher he was, as well as remembering all the good times we had conducting BITS (Blues in the School) programs together down in Jackson Mississippi, I decided to feature him for this month’s TBA Musing the Blues column.

Figuring I should include some basic bio info for the article, I did a quick Google search of his name. I scrolled down a litany of sites that immediately popped up from various Blues Societies he had dome BITS and concerts for, interviews, and old video links of such performances. Instead of a bio though, I was hit suddenly with a short and simple obituary. Unbeknown to me, he had died last year; April1, 2013 at the age of 77. The OB stated that he had died due to “complications from a heart attack” at a hospital in Clarksdale MS. They did mention that he called the music of his ancestors his passion and his calling. Today I’ll write this short musing about him, and then have a libation in his honor, making sure I pour some of it to the ground for him and those very ancestors that gave us all this music we call the Blues.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Bowling Green Seminar To View `Black Oratory' [1968]

Monday, Sept. 30, 1968 
(Fremont, OH) News-Messenger page 9 

Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I Have a
Dream Speech" on the National Mall in 1963.
For the first time Bowling Green State University is offering Black and white undergraduate students classroom time to exchange ideas on contemporary racial problems. An experimental liberal arts course entitled "Black Oratory" is being offered under the direction of Dr. Raymond Yeager, speech professor. 

A casual, relaxed seminar is planned and Dr. Yeager says he would be disappointed if “we didn’t have some lively discussions.” 

Although Black history and culture classes have been offered on a number of other campuses, Bowling Green’s course is unique in that it deals with speeches made by Black leaders, according to Dr. Yeager.  

The textbook, “Rhetoric of the Racial Revolt” includes a collection of speeches made by African American leaders beginning with Civil War-day speaker Frederick Douglass, father of the protest movement, and concluding with modern-day orator Martin Luther King Jr., martyr of the peaceful agitation movement. 

Other African Americans to be discussed include Booker T. Washington, advocate of the “separate but equal” principle, Marian Anderson, one of the world’s foremost contralto singers; Dr. Ralph Bunche, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Elijah Mohammad and Malcolm X, militant leaders of the Black Muslim movement. 

Booker T. Washington
Through the oratorical approach, Dr. Yeager hopes the biographies and personalities of these speakers as well as the temper of the times in which they lived can be studied. 

Six contemporary films also are slated for the course. Dr. Yeager plans to bring a number of prominent Negro leaders to speak to his class. Cleveland's Mayor Carl B. Stokes and Julian Bond, Georgia politician, are two who have been asked to visit Bowling Green. 

“Black Oratory” stems from the success of a similar graduate course taught last year by Dr. Yeager. At that time many undergraduate students expressed a desire to sit in on the sessions. 

“The course is being offered in anticipation of what students want…not in response to student demands,” Dr. Yeager said. 

Malcolm X
Although the decision to offer the class came too late to make this year’s catalogue, students learned about it through word of mouth and about 20, equally divided between white and black, enrolled. 

Dr. Yeager doesn’t pretend to be an expert on the subject of African American history. 

“I should think many of the Black students will know as much about it as I do. I certainly hope I can learn from them,” he said. 

“I envision my role as a listener as well as a director. I would hope that the students could become the teachers and I would only act as a ‘master teacher.’”