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Samuel Charters (born Samuel Barclay Charters in Pittsburghmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, August 1, 1929; his name also appears as Sam Charters) is an Americanmarker music historian, writer, record producer, musician, and poet. He is a noted and widely published author on the subjects of blues and jazz music, as well as a writer of fiction.

Overview

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). He moved with his family to Sacramentomarker, Californiamarker at the age of 15. He attended high schools in Pittsburgh and California and attended Sacramento City Collegemarker, graduating in 1949. After being kicked out of Harvardmarker 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 valuable collection.

In 1951, at the age of 21, he moved to New Orleansmarker, Louisianamarker, where he absorbed the history and culture he had previously only read about; he lived there for most of the 1950s. 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. In 1954, he and his wife began conducting field recordings (initially for Folkways Records throughout the United States, and then in the Bahamasmarker in 1958). Their 1959 recordings of the Texas bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins proved instrumental to Hopkins' rediscovery.

Charters began his writing career in 1959 with The Country Blues. Since that time, his writings have been influential, bringing to light aspects of African American 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 music, 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 the Fish. He became thoroughly disenchanted with American politics during the Vietnam War and moved with his family to Swedenmarker, 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 Connecticutmarker. He has translated into English the works of the Swedish writer Tomas Tranströmer and helped produce the music of various Swedish musical groups.

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, Berkeleymarker during the 1954-55 academic year in a music class; she is a professor of English and American literature at the University of Connecticutmarker.[295802] The two have collaborated together on many projects, particularly their extensive field recording work.

Charters is a Grammy Award winner and his book The Country Blues was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1991 as one of the "Classics of Blues Literature."[295803] In 2000, Charters and his wife donated the Samuel & Ann Charters Archive of Blues and Vernacular African American Musical Culture to the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticutmarker. 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 correspondence.[295804][295805][295806]

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, in 1975.
  • 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 Publications
  • 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. Boyars.
  • 1991 - The Blues Makers. (Incorporates The Bluesmen and Sweet As the Showers of Rain) Da Capo.
  • 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 Boyars.
  • 2009 - A Trumpet Around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz. Jackson: The University Press of Mississippi.

With Leonard Kunstadt

  • 1962 - Jazz: A History of the New York Scene. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.


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