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Author Topic: "Lost Delta Found"  (Read 935 times)

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Offline Johnm

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"Lost Delta Found"
« on: June 15, 2021, 11:49:10 AM »
Hi all,
The full title of "Lost Delta Found" is "Lost Delta Found--Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941--1942". The book, published in 2005 by Vanderbilt University Press and edited by Robert Gordon and Bruce Nemerov, presents the writings of three African American academics, John W. Work III, Lewis Wade Jones and Samuel Adams Jr., who worked with Alan Lomax on a combination musicological/sociological study conducted in Coahoma County in the Mississippi delta in the period described in the title. The Library of Congress was enlisted in the study, in the person of Alan Lomax, to help underwrite the costs involved in conducting the study. The study was very ambitious, for it undertook to assess how changes in transportation and farm equipment, along with increased access to urban areas (Clarksdale, Mississippi for the most part) were bringing changes in every aspect of life for the rural African American farmworkers in that area, e.g. attitudes about and observance of religion, attitudes about education, music and the making of music, etc.

The book covers a tremendous amount of territory and has to have been a very ambitious undertaking for its editors, partially because Alan Lomax, whether intentionally or not, suppressed the writings of Work, Jones and Adams, and moreover, usurped control of the project to the extent he was able as soon as he became involved in the project, and also changed the scope of the study. It took a great deal of detective work even to find a copy of the combined piece that Lewis Jones and John Work wrote. Lomax seemed particularly to want to get Work out of the picture. It's not possible to say exactly why at this juncture, but I suspect it was because Work was a real musician, whereas Lomax was more of a music fan with theories.

It takes a good deal of exposition in the book just to set up the idea of the study, its concept in its early stages and how it changed as Lomax became involved, how the work of the three academics, and Jones and Work in particular, came to be lost. The book contains so much more, though. Lewis Jones' introductory essay, "The Mississippi Delta" provides a solid background for the idea of the study from a sociological viewpoint, while venturing into music to some extent as well. John Work's contribution, presented as "Untitled Manuscript", follows, and it is formidable, with chapters on The Church, The Music of the Church, The Sermon (including an 11-page musical transcription of a recorded sermon, from beginning to end!), The Folk Quartet, Saturday: Gambling in the Delta, Secular Music, The Instruments, Social Songs, Ballads, The Work Songs, and Children's Game Songs, followed by discussion and bios of some of the musicians who were recorded during the study. This section is followed by transcriptions of the melodies of 158 of the songs that were recorded during the study. It's beautiful to see these transcriptions, which have been reproduced in Work's own hand. They operate much like lead sheets in a Jazz Fakebook, except that they have no chordal indications. It's interesting to read through the tunes, both unfamiliar ones and ones that you might have heard before, by Son House, Muddy Waters and Honeyboy Edwards, that were recorded as part of the study. The transcriptions, which certainly represent an enormous of amount of time and industry are followed by Samuel Adams Jr.'s Masters thesis, entitled "Changing Negro Life In The Delta". Like Jones' piece, it starts out focusing on sociological matters, but ends up addressing changes in the music as well. Adams' piece is followed by appendices including interviews with a number of delta residents.

A number of additional appendices follow, covering other aspects of the study. One fascinating one shows what records were on the jukeboxes in local cafes/jukes at the time the study was conducted. The only record that was on every jukebox at that time was Walter Davis' "Come Back Baby". There is another appendix which tells of the circumstances around a horrendous fire in a dance hall in Natchez in which over 200 people died that originally gave John Work the idea of conducting a study in that area.

I would not say that "Lost Delta Found" is an easy read, but I think it's an important one. It's cautionary, in the sense that it makes you realize how important it is to let all of the work involved in such a study be accessible to interested parties, and not have elements of the study squelched. It's also fascinating to read the sociological pieces of the scholars, and to see their perspectives on the changing life in the Delta. Finally, it's rewarding to work through some of what John Work contributed to the study, and sight-singing through his transcriptions is fun and good practice.

Congratulations and thanks to Robert Gordon and Bruce Nemerov for bringing the work of Jones, Work and Adams to light and for putting it all together in "Lost Delta Found".

All best,

« Last Edit: April 10, 2022, 04:05:28 PM by Johnm »

Offline bnemerov

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Re: "Lost Delta Found"
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2021, 08:14:56 PM »
It's so nice to read a sensible precis John. You might be surprised at how few reviewers of the book get its significance.
Like you, the music and social context are what hooked me; not Alan Lomax's character or lack of same. Though the latter is what the NYT, Chicago Trib and other "serious" publications thought was important. Soap opera stuff!

Seems a guitar picker named Miller is a bit sharper than the major newspaper and magazine reviewers. Not a surprise to those who know your work. As a matter of fact, the other "sharpest" take was by Duck B. Go figure!

When you've the time, take a look at "All My Trouble Soon Be Over." A beautiful melody (and lyric) that I fooled around with playing slide on a 12 string in Vastapol. A gem waiting to be added to the canon by someone.

best to you,
« Last Edit: June 18, 2021, 07:37:39 PM by bnemerov »

Offline Stuart

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Re: "Lost Delta Found"
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2021, 10:12:28 PM »
Thanks for the review, John. I purchased the book soon after it was published and I think it's time for a re-read. Here's a link to an earlier thread:

And to Spring Fed Records:

And the NY Times review of the CD that dj posted a link to (as a convenience):
« Last Edit: June 17, 2021, 10:31:33 PM by Stuart »

Offline dj

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Re: "Lost Delta Found"
« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2021, 02:13:58 PM »
Thanks for mentioning Lost Delta Found, John.  It got me to pull the book down off my shelf for the first time in a few years.  A few thoughts:

The book should be required reading for anyone who frequents Weenie Campbell.  If you don't want to read the whole book straight through, I'd recommend starting with Samuel C. Adams Jr.'s Masters Thesis, "Changing Negro Life in the Delta", just for the close-up view it provides of everyday life in and around Clarksdale.  I think all of us who are immersed in the blues too often think of Black life in the rural south as work, blues in the local juke on the weekend, and church on Sunday.  We tend to overlook things like 4H Club Rallies, School commencement exercises, baseball and football games, minstrel shows and circuses, and other things that were big events in Black life back then. 

And we tend to think that everyone was listening to the blues.  But when Adams asked local Blacks to name their favorite songs (he breaks the list into the favorites of "older" and "younger" people), Popular songs predominate.  And not just current songs, like Stardust and My Blue Heaven.  There are patriotic songs (God Bless America, My Country 'Tis of Thee, The Star Spangled Banner), old chestnuts (Home Sweet Home, You Are My Sunshine, I Love You Truly), and a surprising amount of Stephen Foster (Old Black Joe, Swanee River).

And on the jukeboxes, pop, big band, and proto-R&B predominate.  Remember, these are bars frequented by Black patrons in a time of segregation.  But Bing Crosby, Sammy Kaye, and Eddy Duchin (singing Maria Elena) sneak in there.

On the whole, the book makes one realize that Black life in the Delta in 1941 was culturally much richer and vastly more varied than we commonly imagine, and helps put our favorite artists in a more realistic context.

I recommend the book wholeheartedly.


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