This work has been a long time coming, and I am indebted to many for their support along the way. First and foremost are the friends whom I recorded, photographed, and filmed. Their stories are the heart of the book that follows, and for their kindness and generous hospitality I am forever grateful.
B. B. King, my dear friend, understood the importance of building an academic home for the blues and blessed my work in so many ways over the years. From our first visits at Yale in the seventies, to the donation of his blues collection to help create the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi in the eighties, to his visit to the National Endowment for the Humanities during my tenure as chairman in the nineties, B has been incredibly supportive of my work. His life and his music are an inspiration for all that I do. I am indebted to B’s former manager Sid Seidenberg, his current manager Floyd Lieberman, and his dedicated assistant Tina France for their support over the years.
In their distinctive ways, Patti Black, Charlotte Capers, Alice Walker, and Eudora Welty inspired my work with folklore and the spoken word. As directors of the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, respectively, Patti and Charlotte organized exhibits and concerts that featured Fannie Bell Chapman, James “Son Ford” Thomas, and Otha Turner as performers and Bruce Payne as host. And through their friendship and their craft as writers, Alice Walker and Eudora Welty helped me see the spoken word as a distinctive literary form. Their integration of music with literature in works like The Color Purple and “Powerhouse” is especially exciting to me.
Wendy Weil, my literary agent, has patiently waited for this book. Her support and belief in my work for many years has been unswerving. Wendy’s husband, Michael Trossman, deeply loves blues, paints portraits of its performers, and always greets me with, “I got the blues. You got ’em too!”
Elaine Maisner, my editor at the University of North Carolina Press, encouraged and supported me throughout the writing of this book. She nurtured its creation and suggested important changes as I wrestled with the work.
Bruce Jackson and Tom Rankin, folklore colleagues and dear friends, read my manuscript and offered invaluable suggestions for its revision. I have admired their work for many years and am indebted to them for their support.
The Guggenheim Foundation, the University of North Carolina Institute for the Arts and Humanities, and uNC’s Research Council provided generous support that allowed me to spend a year writing this book. Colleagues at IaH offered helpful suggestions as the work evolved.
My early fieldwork in the sixties and seventies was supported by friends at the Ford Foundation (Sheila Biddle), Mississippi Arts Commission (Lida Rogers), Mississippi Humanities Council (Cora Norman), National Endowment for the Arts (Bess Lomax Hawes and Alan Jabbour),