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Black gal, black gal, what makes your head so hard? Like a two by four, in some lumber yard - Joe Pullum, song of the same name

Author Topic: Sheldon Harris  (Read 2293 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Sheldon Harris
« on: September 23, 2005, 09:31:34 AM »
The passing of Sheldon Harris earlier this month was marked by a paid death notice? from the family. There were no obituaries at the time but doubtless some will now follow. When he was in London in 1980 to promote the his mammoth 1979 Blues Who's Who Karl Dallas took the opportunity to interview him. I post this below in belated recognition of an amazing dedication to a particular task:

Searching For Blind Lemon?s Death Cert
Karl Dallas

IT SOUNDS grisly, even ghoulish, but Sheldon Harris has to spend a long time looking for death certificates. Harris is the man who dedicated 18 years of his life to researching and compiling his mammoth 775-page "Blues Who's Who" which lists over 100,000 facts about the lives and deaths of 571 blues singers. There's still some confusion about Robert Johnson's death, for instance, which has yet to be cleared up. Was he shot or stabbed . . . or poisoned ?
Blues Who's Who says he was "reportedly poisoned (or stabbed) and died in ambulance on way to hospital" ? possibly because, in this case, Harris had to rely on printed sources. In his book on Johnson (Oak, 1973), Sam Charters points out that the death certificate wasn't even signed, and gave an unlikely birth place, though this is the place cited by Harris.
Harris is still looking for Blind Lemon Jefferson's death certificate.
"That was an expensive business, but I was determined to find Blind Lemon's death certificate. I tried writing in and around the Chicago area and then I tried Illinois on the theory that perhaps he was out of town when he died, perhaps in Michigan.
"There were stories that he had just done a Paramount recording in Michigan and he was on his way back. Then there were States all the way from Illinois to Texas; I tried all those because his body was sent back to Texas.
''I spent an awful lot of money trying to get some kind of death certificate based on a variance of names, Lemon Jefferson, Blind Lemon, Blind Jefferson, B.L. Jefferson, L. Jefferson.
"Every time you write for another certificate it's more money. I got a lot of responses saying 'No we don't have that person for the month of December 1929 or January 1930, 'because I had nailed it? down to that. Actually if you say December 1929 they'll give you the whole year. So I was settled on December 1929." While he was working at Dr. Marshall Sterns Institute of Jazz Studies, Sheldon was already collecting together any and every scrap of information that he came across.
"I was gathering information for a purpose other than a book. In 1960 when I had enough of it gathered, I saw it was valuable, that it would serve a need in book form. At that point I started to seriously gather material and really go back and research.
"Before then I was catching the facts as they came through the air, then I started going to libraries checking all relevant printed matter, newspapers from 1910 up to the present day.
"I began finding the blues singers and interviewing them from 1960 to around 1978 and then it took the publisher a whole year to put it together."
The fascinating result of Sheldon Harris' endeavours can .be obtained from Collets Folk Record Shop, 180 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2 8JS price ?14.50 plus ?1.50 P&P.? ? ? ? ? ?[Acoustic Music 32, February 1981 p.6]


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