Samuel Charters (born
Samuel Barclay Charters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, August 1, 1929; his name also appears as Sam
Charters) is an American music
historian, writer, record producer, musician, and poet.
is a noted and widely published author on the subjects of blues
music, as well as a
writer of fiction.
Charters was born and spent his childhood in Pittsburgh. He first
became enamored of blues music in 1937, after hearing Bessie Smith
's version of Jimmy Cox's song,
"Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" (Charters 2004).
with his family to Sacramento, California at the age of 15. He attended high
schools in Pittsburgh and California and attended Sacramento City
College, graduating in 1949. After being kicked out
of Harvard for
political activism, he received a bachelor's degree in economics
from the University of
California in 1956.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Charters purchased numerous old recordings
of American blues musicians, eventually amassing a huge and
at the age of 21, he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he absorbed the history and culture he had
previously only read about; he lived there for most of the
He served for two years in the United States Army
(1951-53) and began to
study jazz clarinet
with George Lewis
, but soon acquired
an interest in rural blues
he and his wife began conducting field recordings (initially for
Folkways Records throughout the
United States, and then in the Bahamas in
Their 1959 recordings of the Texas bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins
proved instrumental to
Charters began his writing career in 1959 with The Country
. Since that time, his writings have been influential,
bringing to light aspects of African
musics and culture that had previously been largely
unknown to the general public. His writings include numerous books
on the subjects of blues, jazz, African
, and Bahamian music
as well as liner notes for numerous sound recordings.
From approximately 1966 to 1970 he worked as a producer for the
anti-war band Country Joe and
. He became thoroughly disenchanted with
American politics during the Vietnam War
and moved with his family to Sweden,
establishing a new life there despite not being able to speak the
language at first. He divides his time between Sweden (where he
has a residence permit to live, though maintaining his U.S.
citizenship) and Connecticut.
He has translated into English the works of
the Swedish writer Tomas
and helped produce the music of various Swedish
Charters is married to the writer, editor, Beat generation
scholar, photographer, and
pianist Ann Charters
(b. 1936), whom he met at
the University of California,
Berkeley during the 1954-55 academic year in a music class;
she is a professor of English and American literature at the
Connecticut. The two have collaborated together on
many projects, particularly their extensive field recording
Charters is a Grammy Award
his book The Country Blues
was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame
in 1991 as one of the
"Classics of Blues Literature."
In 2000, Charters and his wife donated the
Samuel & Ann Charters Archive of Blues and Vernacular
African American Musical Culture
to the Thomas J.
Research Center of the University of Connecticut in Storrs,
The archive contains materials collected
during the couple's decades of work documenting and preserving
African American music throughout the United States, the Caribbean,
and Africa. The archive's materials include more than 2,500 sound
recordings, as well as video recordings, photographs, monographs,
sheet music, field notes, correspondence, musicians' contracts, and
Charters' most recent book, A Trumpet Around the Corner: The
Story of New Orleans Jazz
, was released in April 2008.
Books by Samuel Charters
- 1959 - The Country Blues. New York: Rinehart.
Reprinted by Da Capo Press, with a new introduction by the author,
- 1963 - The Poetry of the Blues. With photos by Ann
Charters. New York: Oak Publications.
- 1963 - Jazz New Orleans (1885-1963): An Index to the Negro
Musicians of New Orleans. New York: Oak Publications
- 1967 - The Bluesmen. New York: Oak Publications
- 1975 - The Legacy of the Blues: A Glimpse Into the Art and
the Lives of Twelve Great Bluesmen: An Informal Study.
London: Calder & Boyars.
- 1977 - Sweet As the Showers of Rain. New York: Oak
- 1981 - The Roots of the Blues: An African Search.
Boston: M. Boyars.
- 1984 - Jelly Roll Morton's Last Night at the Jungle Inn: An
Imaginary Memoir. New York: M. Boyars.
- 1986 - Louisiana Black: A Novel. New York: M.
- 1991 - The Blues Makers. (Incorporates The
Bluesmen and Sweet As the Showers of Rain) Da
- 1999 - The Day is So Long and the Wages So Small: Music on
a Summer Island. New York: Marion Boyars.
- 2004 - Walking a Blues Road: A Selection of Blues Writing,
1956-2004. New York: Marion Boyars.
- 2006 - New Orleans: Playing a Jazz Chorus. Marion
- 2009 - A Trumpet Around the Corner: The Story of New
Orleans Jazz. Jackson: The University Press of
With Leonard Kunstadt
- 1962 - Jazz: A History of the New York Scene. Garden
City, New York: Doubleday.