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Jelly Roll Blues Censored Songs and Hidden Histories

Jelly Roll Blues Censored Songs and Hidden Histories

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Jelly Roll Blues is a journey through the censored voices of early blues and jazz, and the deep culture of the Black sporting world, guided by the songs and memories of Jelly Roll Morton.

Morton became famous in the 1920s as a composer and bandleader, but got his start as a singer and pianist entertaining customers in the honky-tonks and bordellos of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He recorded an oral history of that time in 1938 for the Library of Congress, but the most distinctive songs were hidden for over fifty years, because the language and themes were as wild and raunchy as anything in gangsta rap.

Those songs inspired me to explore how much other history was locked away and censored in the early years of the twentieth century, and this book is the result. Full of previously unpublished lyrics and stories, it provides an alternate view of the dawn of American popular music, when jazz and blues were still the private, after-hours music of the Black sporting world, and in particular of the women who were that world's most celebrated figures. It gives new insight into familiar figures like Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong, and introduces characters like  Ready Money, the New Orleans sex worker and pickpocket who ended up owning one of the largest Black hotels on the West Coast. It is a journey to a fascinating period when a new generation of Black musicians, dancers, and listeners were shaping lives their parents could not have imagined and art that transformed popular culture around the world.

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