Big Bill Broonzy

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1949-1951 Review

by Chris Nickson

Curiously, the years 1949-1951 are the least documented on disc of Big Bill Broonzy's career. He was, in fact, very busy, shuttling between Chicago and New York, one of the premier acoustic blues figures from the old Mississippi school who was still active on the instrument. While he wasn't averse to playing up the songster side a little bit, he was, in fact, a very sophisticated figure, and a polished raconteur. In fact, it wasn't until 1949 that his surname was added to records -- an indication of how big a star he'd been. It's notable, too, that after World War II he moved away from playing to black audiences, focusing on people who loved jazz and folk music, helping to bring those strands together -- and also beginning to perform overseas. The dearth of material from this three-year period makes this disc especially valuable. It's easy to hear the obvious fluency in his playing, far removed from his Delta roots by now, and owing a great deal to players like Tampa Red. This was the period, too, when he recorded "Black, Brown and White," his indictment of American racism, which wasn't released until 1951, and then only in France (where he toured for the first time that year).

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