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The Complicated Story Of Bluesman Gus Cannon

Friday, June 06, 2014

Gus Cannon's album 'Walk Right In' was released on Stax Records in 1963. Gus Cannon's album 'Walk Right In' was released on Stax Records in 1963.

Folk musician and former member of Carolina Chocolate Drops Dom Flemons distinctly remembers the first time he heard the music of 20th century blues musician Gus Cannon: It was about ten years ago, while Flemons was taking a college class that examined racial stereotypes in literature. It was then that he heard the Stax recording of Cannon's "Walk Right In" from 1963. The song, originally written and recorded by Cannon decades earlier in the 1920s, had become a hit in the early 1960s thanks to a cover by folk group The Rooftop Singers -- which led to Gus Cannon, then aged 80, re-recording his own song. 

 

 

Flemons recalls that after initially hearing Cannon's 1963 recording, he thought his exaggerated speech and singing resembled the offensive blackface minstrelsy that he was learning about at the time. "All I was ever hearing was blackface minstrelsy is a bunch of white guys making fun of black guys," Flemons told us on Soundcheck. "But when you bring [in] black participants, after several decades of this first round of blackface minstelsy, it starts becoming a bit more complex when you think of black people making fun of the white guys making fun of black people."

 

In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Flemons discusses his research findings about Cannon and his article in last fall's Oxford American, in which he uncovers the true meaning behind another song of Cannon's called "Can You Blame The Colored Man?"

This segment originally aired on March 10, 2014.

Guests:

Dom Flemons

Comments [1]

David Eustice from Durham, N.C.

I have been listening to Gus Cannon's Stomper's since sometime in the late 60's.
I understand his lack of fame, however I can not for the life of me understand why you did not play some of his old recordings. The one you played is not representational of his tallent.
The Rooftop Singers were never much beyond Larence Welk.

Thank you for trying at least.

Mar. 11 2014 08:45 PM

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