Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Blues

Dr. Bob Prescribes Robert Johnson

In choosing a topic for last week’s (May 8) Music History Monday post, I had a difficult choice: to either mark the birthday of the short-lived American composer and pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) or the birthday of the even shorter-lived American blues songwriter, singer, and guitarist Robert Johnson (1911-1938). I chose to run with Gottschalk. Today, then, we are offering up a belated birthday greeting to Robert Johnson, who is among the most influential American musicians to have ever lived. Was that last bit an overstatement, “among the most influential American musicians to have ever lived”? No; it is not. But we would note that Johnson’s musical influence was primarily felt by rock ‘n’ roll musicians, living and working a full generation after his death in 1938. As we will soon discuss, we know next to nothing about Johnson himself: his life (and his death). He was an itinerant musician who performed on a small musical circuit up-and-down the Mississippi Delta, playing on street corners, saloons, Saturday night dances, and what were called juke joints. (“Juke joints” were pop-up establishment featuring music, dancing, gambling, and drinking, operated primarily by Black Americans in the deep south). Johnson’s recording career spanned […]

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Music History Monday: The Empress

Today we celebrate the birth – on April 15, 1894, 125 years ago today, in Chattanooga, Tennessee – of the American contralto Bessie Smith. We Reflect on “GOAT” When I was growing up, the word “goat” had two distinct meanings. First, there was the animal: a quadruped mammal, a member of the family Bovidae and subfamily Caprinae. There are presently over 300 distinct breeds of goat, both wild and domesticated. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in 2011 there were more than 924 million goats alive across the planet. (One can only wonder why there hasn’t been a more recent census.) When I was growing up, the second meaning of the word “goat” was a loser: a derisive term for an athlete who, as a result of some monumentally boneheaded mistake, was responsible for his or her team’s loss. For example: Mike Torres, the Boston Red Sox pitcher who gave up a three-run homer to light-hitting, New York Yankee second baseman Bucky Dent in a one-game playoff following the 1978 regular season; or Bill Buckner, the Boston Red Sox first baseman who booted an easy grounder to lose game six of the 1986 World Series against the […]

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