The Indelible J. Mayo Williams
Author: Clifford R. Murphy
The first-ever biography of an overlooked but epic life
Cloth – $125
Paper – $24.95
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 07/23/2024
Cloth: 07/23/2024
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About the Book

The product of a hardscrabble childhood, J. Mayo “Ink” Williams parlayed an Ivy League education into unlikely twin careers as a foundational producer of Black music and pioneering Black player in the early NFL. Clifford R. Murphy tells the story of an ambitious, upwardly mobile life affected, but never daunted, by white society’s racism or the Black community’s class tensions. Williams caroused with Paul Robeson, recorded the likes of Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson, and lined up against Chicago Bears player-coach George Halas. Though resented by the artists he exploited, Williams combined a rock-solid instinct for what would sell with an ear for music that put him at the forefront of finding, recording, and blending blues and jazz. Murphy charts Williams’s wide-ranging accomplishments while providing portraits of the cutthroat recording industry and the possibilities, however constrained, of Black life in the 1920s and 1930s.

Vivid and engaging, Ink brings to light the extraordinary journey of a Black businessman and athlete.

* Publication of this book was supported in part by a grant from the Judith McCulloh Endowment for American Music.

About the Author

Clifford R. Murphy is a musician and ethnomusicologist. He is a founding member of the rock band Say ZuZu, the director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and the author of Yankee Twang: Country and Western Music in New England.

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“Mayo ‘Ink’ Williams may be the most important figure you’ve never heard of from the world of early blues music. In this unprecedented biography, Clifford R. Murphy, with a musician’s ear, a writer’s touch, and an historian's mastery of subject, brings to life this shape-shifting and monumental figure from the heyday of the blues.”--Dave Sheinin, writer, Washington Post