The Complicated Story Of Bluesman Gus Cannon

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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.