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GUEST,Frankham Review: Book: Where Dead Voices Gather (1) Where Dead Voices Gather 26 Jun 04

Nick Tosches, biographer, music critic and contributor to Vanity Fair has come out with an interesting and perhaps controversial book about his quest for the elusive Emmett Miller, the Minstrel Man from Georgia. He has researched Miller's life and corrected much of the data regarding it. It was a labor of love spanning twenty years staring with a handful or 78 recordings and winding up visiting a graveyard in Georgia.

Much of the supposed ideas about Miller are questioned by him and corrected by his research.

The Yodeling Blues Singer sheds light on a style of music not much mentioned that seems to stem from the short life span of the Minstrel Show.
According to Tosches, much of what we associate as traditional blues and Afro-American folk song stems from the popularization of the minstrel show singing which extended first from the Northeast, mainly New York and spread to the South later. The mystery surrounding Dixey's Land might offer a model for this journey as Daniel Emmett's song, a favorite of Abraham Lincoln, was co-opted by the Confederacy and through the illegal appropriation by the Schultz (?) Publishing Company of New Orleans.

The effects of the Minstrel Show is apparent in Anglo-American dance tunes and Bluegrass. Bob Wills, Uncle Dave Macon, Jimmy Rodgers, Bing Crosby,
Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, and many Country Music and Broadway Stage stars appeared in blackface.

Bob Wills attributes Miller as being a major influence on his music.

Tosches suggests that American music is much more mixed up than we think and the images associated with the performance of the respective musics suggests that we refer to as folk music are contrived as a part of "show business". It is now my contention that what we refer to as folk music might be mostly image as much of the music we have inherited comes from performing sources on the stage. This might well be true of the ballads, blues songs and other so-called "ethnic" music as well.

This is borne out by the contemporary image of the "folk singer" today as a singer with guitar or banjo (generally accoustic) and their appearance as marked by such performers as Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Blues singers and Grand Ol' Opry stars as well.

Some of the preceding ideas are my own inferred from the book.

It's a worthwhile read.

Where Dead Voices Gather, by Nick Tosches, Little Brown and Company,
Copyright 2001.


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