Cover for HENRY: Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass. Click for larger imageTo coincide with this month’s International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass event in Raleigh, North Carolina, we are offering eBook versions of four University of Illinois Press music titles on sale for $2.99. The sale will run through October 31.

Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass by Murphy Hicks Henry
The first book devoted entirely to women in bluegrass, Pretty Good for a Girl documents the lives of more than seventy women whose vibrant contributions to the development of bluegrass have been, for the most part, overlooked. Drawing from extensive interviews, well-known banjoist Murphy Hicks Henry gives voice to women performers and innovators throughout bluegrass’s history. Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

Cover for Thompson: Ring Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery. Click for larger imageRing Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery by Katrina Dyonne Thompson
In this ambitious project, historian Katrina Thompson examines the conceptualization and staging of race through the performance, sometimes coerced, of black dance from the slave ship to the minstrel stage. She shows how these performances informed white European and American understandings of race, influenced interactions between whites and blacks, and often held conflicting meanings in enslaved people’s lives. Drawing on travel journals, slave narratives, popular literature, and historical sources, Thompson explicates how black dance was used by whites to justify enslavement, perpetuate the existing racial hierarchy, and mask the brutality of the domestic slave trade. Whether on slave ships, at the auction block, or on plantations, whites often used coerced performances to oppress and demean the enslaved. Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

Cover for Adler: Bean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festivals. Click for larger imageBean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festivals by Thomas A. Adler
Widely recognized as the oldest continuously running bluegrass music festival in the world, this June festival’s roots run back to late 1951, when Monroe purchased the Brown County Jamboree, a live weekly country music show presented between April and November each year. Over the years, Monroe’s festival featured the top performers in bluegrass music, including Jimmy Martin, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, the Goins Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, and many more. Thomas A. Adler’s history of Bean Blossom traces the long and colorful life of the Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Festival. Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

Cover for Dickens: Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens. Click for larger imageWorking Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens by Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone
Hazel Dickens was an Appalachian singer and songwriter known for her superb musicianship, feminist country songs, union anthems, and blue-collar laments. Working Girl Blues presents forty original songs that Hazel Dickens wrote about coal mining, labor issues, personal relationships, and her life and family in Appalachia. Conveying sensitivity, determination, and feistiness, Dickens comments on each of her songs, explaining how she came to write them and what they meant and continue to mean to her. Bill C. Malone’s introduction traces Dickens’s life, musical career, and development as a songwriter. Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.


Davis_NegroS14The UIP book Beyond the White Negro: Empathy and Anti-Racist Reading by Kimberly Chabot Davis has won the 2014 Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize, sponsored by the New England American Studies Association (NEASA).

The book focuses on how white engagement with African American cultural texts can lead to empathy between races.

The award will be presented to the author at the association’s annual conference on October 18, 2014

Read an interview with Kimberly Chabot Davis about Beyond the White Negro here.

LucanderF14David Lucander is a professor of history at SUNY Rockland Community College. He recently answered some questions about his UIP book Winning the War for Democracy: The March on Washington Movement, 1941-1946.

Q: What was the March on Washington Movement (MOWM)?

David Lucander: The March on Washington Movement was an organization founded by A. Philip Randolph in 1941 for the purpose of staging an assembly in D.C. to pressure President Franklin Roosevelt into taking a stronger against segregation and racism. The Roosevelt Administration saw this as a potential national embarrassment, and White House officials worked to thwart the march. In exchange for Executive Order 8802, which mandated defense contractors in the “arsenal of democracy” to practice non-discrimination in personnel decisions, Randolph called off the demonstration. Although securing the anti-discrimination clause was an important gain, many of MOWM’s demands remained unfulfilled. Seeking to capitalize on its early momentum, the organization remained intact for the duration of the war and became a leading voice in the struggle for civil rights. Continue reading

HendricksF13Fannie Barrier Williams: Crossing the Borders of Region and Race by Wanda A. Hendricks has been selected as one of this year’s winners of the Letitia Woods Brown Book Award for best work by a senior scholar.

The award is presented by the Association of Black Women Historians to award “the best book in the field of African American history published this year.”

Hendricks’s biography tells the story of activist and reformer Fannie Barrier Williams (1855–1944), who became one of the most prominent educated African American women of her generation.

Award Committee Chair Lopez Matthews says of Fannie Barrier Williams, “The book illuminates the life of a race woman whose education placed her within the pantheon of black intellectual culture. Principally a lone woman among men her notable achievements are well known but until now have not been fully explored. This book makes an immeasurable contribution to the African American women’s history.”


rosenberg photoTonight, the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) will induct folklorist, musician, bluegrass historian, and University of Illinois Press author Neil V. Rosenberg into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame at its awards show in Raleigh, North Carolina. Rosenberg currently serves as Professor Emeritus in the Department of Folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland. With the IBMA honor, Rosenberg adds to a meritorious career that includes a 1997 Grammy Award and the Marius Barbeau Medal for lifetime achievement given by the Folklore Studies Association of Canada. As the IBMA notes:

Neil Rosenberg specializes in the study of contemporary folk music traditions, investigating the ways in which popular music interacts with local and regional folk music traditions, and examining processes of cultural revival. Rosenberg conducts research in Canada and the United States, focusing upon the lives and music of professional, semi-professional and amateur old-time, bluegrass, country and folk musicians. A performing musician since childhood, Rosenberg utilizes his skills and experiences in bluegrass, country, folk, jazz, classical and experimental music to gain a closer understanding of the processes he studied. His books include Bluegrass: A History, the definitive work on the genre, which was reprinted with a new preface for its 20th Anniversary Edition in 2005. Other books include Transforming Tradition, a collection of studies on North American folk music revivals; and Bluegrass Odyssey: A Documentary in Pictures and Words, co-authored with photographer Carl Fleischhauer of the Library of Congress. In 1996 he began working with the late Charles Wolfe on The Music of Bill Monroe, a bio-discography published in 2007 that updates and expands his long out-of-print Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys: An Illustrated Discography. He has published over sixty articles and review essays. In 1981 he originated the column “Thirty Years Ago This Month” in Bluegrass Unlimited, and wrote it until 1993.

For those eager to listen in, the IBMA Awards Show will be broadcast live on Sirius XM Satellite Radio (Bluegrass Junction), streamed live at, and syndicated to more than 300 U.S. markets and 14 foreign networks.

When Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig tied the knot with Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in October of 1810 a few kegs were tapped and a new tradition was born. The modern “Oktoberfest” is 17 days, culminating with a German Unity Day blowout filled with countless Lederhosen-adorned revelers.

AgnewS14You don’t have to go to Munich to celebrate what has become a beer drinker’s holiday. Michael Agnew, author of A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland says that celebrating the German festival is easy in the Midwest. You just need to find the right craft brewer and bring your tastebuds. Here are a few of his suggestions:

August Schell Brewing Co., New Ulm, Minnesota

“This old, family-owned brewery has deep German roots,” Agnew says. “It hosts about as authentic an Oktoberfest as you are likely to find in the US.”

Schell’s has an Oktoberfest that is enjoyed seasonally, but in A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide Agnew recommends Schell’s pils as well. The pils is “brewed Solidly in the German Style, it is light, crips, and drive with a sharply bitter bite.”

Capital Brewery, Madison, Wisconsin

Capital has an Oktoberfest celebration in their beer garden.  But, sorry, you’ve missed it. The event was September 14th. This doesn’t mean the celebration can’t continue, however. You can still pick up the recommended Autumnal Fire.

“A strong doppelbock based on an Oktoberfest recipe, this beer pours a beautiful ruddy amber. It features an intense malty sweetness with loads of raisin and dark fruit flavors.”

Bull Falls Brewery, Wausau, Wisconsin

German-style lagers are the specialty of Brewmaster Michael Zamzow. Beer Guide author Agnew recommends the Zwickel, an unfiltered pilsner “dominated by spicy, black-licorice hop flavors.”

Haymarket Pub & Brewery, Chicago, Illinois

The Oktoberfest Märzen Bier is a seasonal favorite at this Randolph Street brewer. The Guide also notes “no other brewpub in Chicago focuses on Belgian-style beers to the same extent.”

Millstream Brewery, Amana, Iowa

Millstream and the Amana Colonies have a whole weekend of Oktoberfest events 10/3-5.

During the celebration you can pick up a Child Brau Amber Lager: “This traditional Vienna style is a fifteen-time national award winner, including taking the gold medeal in the 2010 World Beer Cup.””


double indemnity lobby card

“Do you make your own breakfast, Mr Neff?”

“Well, I squeeze a grapefruit now and again.”

Has it really been seventy years since Double Indemnity? The noir touchstone hit theaters in September of 1944, about the same time the Allies liberated Brussels and Martha Graham put the finishing flourishes on Appalachian Spring. Adapted from a James M. Cain novella by director Billy Wilder and detective fiction ace Raymond Chandler, Double Indemnity tells the story of how an unhappy wife and her insurance man paramour do in the husband. This being film noir, double dealing and general faithlessness—plus a suspicious claims adjuster played by Edward G. Robinson—bring the proceedings to various grim ends. Double Indemnity earned seven Academy Award noms, became a classic, influenced the entire noir genre, and even made a lot of dough.

In the new noir-oriented collection Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, essayist Neil Verma explores the multifacted relationship between film noir and radio, the latter still a dominant medium in the 1940s.

Many acts of listening transform readily into pictorial form, but sound experience also always contains an energy that can’t be fully reprocessed into an image without blockage or remainder. Indeed, some of the most indelible pictures of listeners in noir are of audile beings transfixed by a mysterious auditory surplus that the camera cannot quite give us.

Which brings us to Double Indemnity:

Events begin when Walter Neff sneaks into the Dietrichson garage and climbs into the back of the couple’s car. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) enters with her husband (Tom Powers) and mouths a silent greeting to Neff while stuffing bags in the rear. As they drive we see Neff, his hand poised clawlike on the rear of the front seat, listening silently. The car turns down a dark street and Phyllis scans the road from left to right, then honks the horn in a prearranged signal. Neff reaches over the seat and kills Dietrichson. The murder is offscreen, just the span of a frame away. Phyllis bobs slightly as her seat jerks with the scuffle. The script reads: “There are struggling noises and a dull sound of something breaking. Phyllis drives on and never turns her head. She stares straight in front of her. Her teeth are clenched.” Staring forward, yet not really looking, she is in a state of . . . what? Trance? Titillation? The shot of Phyllis recalls Foster Hirsch’s description of her as a “reptilian” figure, a kind of somnambulist. Elisabeth Bronfen sees more complexity in the close-up, identifying three distinct phases to it: “Determination initially turns to sad acceptance of the death she has provoked, then becomes a quiet joy that indicates her own satisfaction and the completion of her plan.”

However we read her complicated expression, the more perplexing issue is why Phyllis elects to listen to something that she may easily observe. She wants to see her husband dead, yet it’s more chilling that, when given the chance to do so, she’d rather hear it instead. And in spite of the fact that we do not face the same choice as Phyllis, her desires are not easily extricated from ours. For the viewer, the events in the next seat are a sound-play whose parameters are spelled out, with specifics left to our imagination. We visualize within semantic bounds shaped by acoustic information–a swell of music, the sound of struggle, a faint choke–picturing an event in a place we cannot see. But our “viewing” is complicated by the fact that we do it as we watch her face and imagine what she imagines, hypnotized. The picture in our mind at once includes and meshes with the picture in her mind as we suppose it to be. In this way, the shot lures us through Phyllis’s otakoustophilia back to our own overactive audile imagination, which is echoed back at us as a perversion. There is something about this moment that indicts the gratuitousness of radiophonic experience, with its fascination with making pictures in the mind, turning them around in our heads, dwelling on them to excess.

Story songs had won love from an admiring public since the days when drunken Vikings flung wandering skalds into a nearby volcano. When the wireless came along, story songs filled the air in a different way.

The story song “El Paso” carried a distinctiveness beyond mere musical virtue. It possessed a maturity seldom heard in a genre dedicated to historical novelty tunes like “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” and to a booming market in dead teenager songs that in the late 1960s would expand to dead wives (“Honey,” by Bobby Goldsboro), dead hillbillies (“Ode to Billie Joe,” by Bobbie Gentry), and dead everyone (“In the Year 2525,” by Zager and Evans).

When “El Paso” landed as the first Billboard Number One of the 1960s, Marty Robbins became part of a wave of successful story singers, many of them now-forgotten nobodies. A partial survey of the competition perhaps makes it clear why Robbins stood so tall among his so-called peers.

“Tell Laura I Love Her,” by Ray Peterson (1961)

“Tell Laura I Love Her” is Ray Peterson’s story of Tommy, a boy determined to get the money to buy his girl a wedding ring. Trapped in a world without lottery tickets, Tommy has no choice but to do what any of us would do in his situation. He enters a small-town auto race.

Across the entire dead teenager genre, few moments ring out with the hysteric sincerity found only in the teen soul. One of them is Peterson’s chorus on “Tell Laura I Love Her.” It’s quite a feat of sustained emotion—he has to sing it three or four times, the last from beyond the grave.

“Patches,” by Dickey Lee (1962)

Not just a dead teenager song, but a dead teenager song about forbidden love and a double suicide. You can see why music fans shouted, “Turn it up!” from coast to coast.

King of the splatter platter, Dickey Lee told a story as old as Shakespeare, though Lee had greater vocal range than the Bard. Parents won’t let an ordinary boy see a girl from the other side of the tracks or, in this case, the other side of the polluted river. Patches, the girl, jumps into the coal-choked watery depths in her grief. The narrator prepares to follow just as soon as he finishes singing.

Indescribably wretched, “Patches” nonetheless set up Lee as a long-term hitmaker. He later released “Laurie (Strange Things Happen),” that creepy song you half-remember where the narrator picks up a girl, she borrows his sweater and takes it with her, and then it turns out she’s dead and he finds the sweater on her grave. In the Seventies, he gave the world “Rocky,” a song that inflicts both terminal illness and pregnancy on the narrator’s true love.

“Sink the Bismarck,” by Johnny Horton (1960)

“Sink the Bismarck” cemented Johnny Horton’s claim as the History Channel of pop music: not always accurate, obsessed with Germans, and enjoyable if there’s nothing on elsewhere. Horton and co-songwriter Tillman Franks nodded to their usual country audience by describing the battleship’s guns as “big as steers” and declaring it was “making such a fuss.” Pop fans hardly noticed. “Sink the Bismarck” rose to Number Three just months after “El Paso” topped the charts.

“Big Bad John,” by Jimmy Dean (1961)

Jimmy Dean had been in the sausage factory known as the music industry for years when, with his label itching to drop him, he came up with a tall tale punctuated by Gregorian harmonies. “Big Bad John” used a classic trope of fiction—a stranger comes to town. John, like Gatsby, provoked dark whispers involving murder, in John’s case of a guy who had fallen out with our titular hero over the affections of a Cajun Queen. John also (spoiler) died at the end, in his case in a mining disaster while saving his colleagues. “Big Bad John” would not be the last spoken-word story song to break the bank. In 1964, Canadian anchorman-turned-cowboy patriarch Lorne Greene would sell millions of records with the western-themed “Ringo,” a song not about the drummer in a then-popular band.

“Mack the Knife,” by Bobby Darin (1959)

Surprisingly few Marxist émigré playwrights have penned a hit song. But German lyricist Bertolt Brecht reached the toppermost of the poppermost with this jazzy ballad from his play The Threepenny Opera. Darin’s swinging and brassy version—called definitive by Frank Sinatra—proved that America’s musical tastes were omnivorous enough to include Weimar-era show tunes, as if anyone ever doubted it. More importantly, “Mack the Knife” reclaimed the story song for violent criminals, albeit too briefly.

Twentieth Century DrifterCountry music superstar Marty Robbins was born on September 26, 1925.

In three decades as a singer and songwriter Robbins placed a staggering 94 songs on Billboard’s country music charts. His musical style ranged from rockabilly rave-ups to pop standards and even Hawaiian songs.

In her biography Twentieth Century Drifter author Diane Diekman writes about the day in 1925 when Martin David Robinson was born:

Lillie, seven at the time, remembers their Grandma Heckle had come to spend a few days, a visit that pleased her because of the enjoyable times they spent together. Grandma woke the children on Sunday morning and told them of a surprise in their mother’s room. Lillie recalls, “Mamma was still in bed, which was unusual. On a cot were two tiny babies, each with a fist in its mouth. Grandma said the doctor had come during the night and brought two little twin babies.” When Lillie asked which was the boy, Grandma Heckle proudly pointed, and Lillie covered the baby’s face with the blanket. She didn’t want another brother. Three were enough.

She says she didn’t know she was “covering the face of a future great country and western singer and composer.” With his father’s charm and his mother’s work ethic and integrity, the boy would someday be Marty Robbins.

Marty_Robbins_1966There is a possibly apocryphal story about Loretta Lynn’s classic “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Supposedly, Lynn’s original version of the song included ten (or eight or twelve) verses. Hearing it, her producer Owen Bradley said something along the order of, “Loretta, there’s already been one ‘El Paso,’ and that’s all there’s ever gonna be.”

“El Paso” clocked in at 4:37, an Illiad-like length for the radio industry of the time. Mind you, listeners wanted story songs. In 1959 alone, Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans” and Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” finished numbers one and two (respectively) on Billboard’s Top 100 for the year. Story songs did even better business on the country charts where Robbins had found a home. But radio had decided it had to be a short story and Robbins had come up with a tragic, if tuneful, novel.

The epic running time convinced Columbia exec Don Law, a man in the business of getting hits on the radio, to decline. As Diane Diekman writes in Twentieth Century Drifter, her biography of Robbins, out went “El Paso.” For a time. Sideman Jim Glaser recalled:

“Marty carried a little ukulele with him, and to pass the miles, he used to sing every song he could think of and Bobby Sykes and I would put harmony on them. Just to be doing something.” The songs they sang included “El Paso.” According to Glaser, “We’d get out in the middle of Texas somewhere, and he’d get his ukulele and teach us the new part of the song. He’d come on tour and he’d have a new piece of it finished. It was several tours before we knew what was going to happen in the song. I’d lay out the harmony for Bobby and me. So by the time we went into the studio, we had it down pat.”

Robbins had wanted to record an album of cowboy songs for years. He finally got Law behind the project, though Robbins admitted, “Don, this album won’t sell five hundred records.”

But it sold a lot more than that, thanks to the inclusion of a story song about a crime of passion and a woman named Feleena. “El Paso” won awards, sold millions, crossed over to the pop charts, and became Robbins’ signature performance. As with many classics, the fact that “El Paso” ever saw the light of day seems like pure luck, for Robbins and the rest of us.

Right at that moment, a line popped into his mind: “Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl.” In later years, he enjoyed telling the story of writing the song. “It was a funny sensation,” he said in an interview. “I’m driving across the desert from El Paso to Phoenix as I’m writing, y’see. The song came out like a motion picture, and I could never forget the words to it. I put them down after I got to Phoenix, but I couldn’t forget it because it was like a motion picture. I didn’t know how it was going to end. It just kept on coming out, and coming out, and the tune was coming out at the same time.”

“I was rushing real quick trying to get through it, saying the words as fast as I could because they were just coming out.” He told Ralph Emery, “It was real exciting, and I kept waiting for the end to come to see what was going to happen. Finally it ended when it wanted to. I really didn’t have too much to do with that song. It just came out.”