Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Robert Johnson

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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