“Howard W Odum”

I rarely do this, but can I tell you what I dreamt last night?

First, a bit of background. Blues as we know it has its origins in West Africa, and the musical traditions they brought to the U.S. as a result of slavery. When slavery gave way to sharecropping, small scale agricultural production and building of the railroads, the call and response along with what was heard in jook joints (throw in ragtime, country aka white folk music of the time, what was heard in black churches) and well, it started to sound a lot like modern day blues. That was the period from 1870 to 1900. Soon after 1900, many people report having heard the blues.

Early research of blues music was conducted by Howard W Odum, who made the first non-commercial recordings of the blues about 118 years ago, and published a collection of songs from Lafayette County, Mississippi and Newton County, Georgia about 110 years ago. Those recordings are now lost to history, so instead we must use historical logic to piece together what those recordings probably/should’ve/could’ve sounded like.

I dreamt that I found those recordings. And they were surprising! The recordings weren’t exactly the older cousins of early existing recordings such as “St Louis Blues” and “Crazy Blues.” Instead, they contained a “never before heard” fusion of West African idioms along with the chord changes and call and response one would have expected to hear. The music world went nuts! They said this was the most significant recording in the history of the blues. (All apologies to Robert Johnson…) Artists started to record their own versions of these songs. New material was written in this “new old” style.

And the recordings brought on a cultural moment. African Americans found new meanings in the music, providing a spiritual link to their own identities. A humanitarian movement sprung up to provide a “Marshall Plan” of relief not only to raise incomes and life expectancy in West Africa but also to preserve their own cultures. And a massive wave hit schools around the world to study human history and natural history, and to save the human race and the planet.

(Because if I just said “I dreamt I discovered the lost work of Howard W Odum,” you would’ve stop reading…)


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