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Lost Delta Found
Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941-1942

Author(s): John W. Work, Lewis Wade Jones, Samuel C. Adams Jr.

Editor(s): Robert Gordon, Bruce Nemerov

Blues Hall of Fame Inductee—Named a "Classic of Blues Literature" by the Blues Foundation, 2019

This remarkable book recovers three invaluable perspectives, long thought to have been lost, on the culture and music of the Mississippi Delta.

In 1941 and '42 African American scholars from Fisk University—among them the noted composer and musicologist John W. Work, sociologist Lewis Wade Jones, and graduate student Samuel C. Adams Jr.—joined folklorist Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress on research trips to Coahoma County, Mississippi. Their mission was to explore the musical habits and history of the black community there and "to document adequately the cultural and social backgrounds for music in the community." Among the fruits of the project were the earliest recordings by the legendary blues singer and guitarist Muddy Waters. The hallmark of the study was to have been a joint publication of its findings by Fisk and the Library of Congress. However, the field notes and manuscripts by the Fisk researchers became lost in Washington. Lomax's own book drawing on the project's findings, The Land Where the Blues Began, did not appear until 1993, and although it won a National Book Critics Circle Award, it was flawed by a number of historical inaccuracies.

Recently uncovered by author and filmmaker Robert Gordon, the writings, interviews, notes, and musical transcriptions produced by Work, Jones, and Adams in the Coahoma County study now appear in print for the first time. Their work captures, with compelling immediacy, a place, a people, a way of life, and a set of rich musical traditions as they existed sixty years ago. Until the surfacing of these documents, Lomax's perspective was all that was known of the Coahoma County project and its research. Now, at last, the voices of the other contributors can be heard.

Including essays by Bruce Nemerov and Gordon on the careers and contributions of Work, Jones, and Adams, Lost Delta Found will become an indispensable historical resource, as marvelously readable as it is enlightening.

Illustrated with photos and more than 160 musical transcriptions.


Biography of Author(s)

John W. Work (1901–1966) was a gifted composer and educator. One of the first African American academics to argue the value of African American folk music, he preserved this heritage both in his book, American Negro Songs and Spirituals, and through his work with the Fisk Jubilee Singers, which he directed from 1947 until 1956. He retired from Fisk University in 1966.
Lewis Wade Jones (1910–1979) was an instructor in the Department of Social Sciences at Fisk University from 1932 to 1942, where he worked closely with Charles S. Johnson. In 1949 the two co-wrote A Statistical Analysis of Southern Counties: Shifts in the Negro Population of Alabama. After leaving Fisk, Jones moved to the Tuskegee Institute School of Education, where he was a professor of sociology.
After receiving his master's degree from Fisk University, Samuel C. Adams Jr. (1920–2001) attended the University of Chicago, where he received his PhD in 1953. He had a long and distinguished career in public service, highlighted by his appointment to the post of Ambassador to the Republic of Niger in 1968–1969.

Biography of Editor(s)

Robert Gordon is the author of Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters, among other books. He directed the PBS documentary Muddy Waters: Can't Be Satisfied and was the writer of the Memphis episode of Martin Scorsese's The Blues series.
Bruce Nemerov was a professional musician, record producer, and composer from 1969–1991 before joining the Center for Popular Music at MTSU. He is also the author of The Story Behind the Song: 150 Songs That Chronicle the 20th Century. He describes himself as "Born in the North / Raised in the South / Schooled out West / Ain't dead yet."

Reviews

  • "Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University–Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941–1942 presents a unique and valuable perspective on the pioneering Coahoma County study that also was recounted in Alan Lomax's Land Where the Blues Began, a prior Classics of Blues Literature honoree. Written by African American scholars from Fisk University, Lost Delta Found documents their crucial but often overlooked work on the project."
    The Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame induction announcement, 2019
  • "Restores credit for the definitive Delta-blues research to the men who conducted it."
    Paste Magazine
  • "Splendid and significant . . . Work was instrumental in uncovering and giving the work of bluesmen Muddy Waters, Son House, Son Sims, and Willie Brown to the world; every library that owns [Alan Lomax's book The Land Where the Blues Began] should own this one, too. An essential purchase for music collections."
    Library Journal
  • "This may well be the greatest unpublished goldmine of early research into the music of black Mississippians, and its appearance is a boon not only to music scholars but to anyone interested in Southern life in a period of intense change and musical expression."
    Sing Out!
  • "These original documents . . . paint a compellingly accurate portrait of the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s. . . . Work, Jones, and Adams are finally getting their due at a time when Mississippi seems consumed with righting its past wrongs."
    Mojo
  • "Gordon and Nemerov have rescued from oblivion an important study of black life in rural Mississippi. . . . Work's 160 song transcriptions of 1941–1942 field recordings form the 100-page centerpiece of this book, and equally illuminating are insightful essays by the Fisk trio on plantation folklore and traditions, already fading at that time as urban influences permeated the Mississippi Delta."
    Publishers Weekly