Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'n' Roll by Preston Lauderbach

(Norton) In the introduction Lauderbach explains what "chitlin' circuits" he won't be talking about, and hopelessly fumbles his handful of words about the contemporary black theater circuit (he makes a misleading statement about the relationship between the venues and works of Tyler Perry and August Wilson) and the old time black comedy circuit (he misspells Redd Foxx), so I was wary...until I read the next 202 thrilling pages (in pretty much one sitting). In this riveting book the first time author pontificates about the R&B southern circuit of the early-to-mid-20th century, of which he has done amazing research, conducted fascinating oral histories with survivors, and profoundly understands. The infamous Natchez Rhythm Club fire, in which over 200 clubgoers and musicians lost their lives, has been spoken of and written of often, but never with the vivid, incredible detail in this book. The stories of R&B superheroes like Johnny Ace, Gatemouth Brown, Little Richard (in drag queen glory), Louis Jordon, and Houston's slick Don Robey are told with detail and love, and even if some of my heroes only make brief cameos (the Treniers are mentioned but never detailed, although that may have a lot to do with their successfukl graduation to L.A. nightclubs) I can say without hesitation that this is a great, informative read. Lesson: Don't judge a book by it's introduction!

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