Tags: EU | Obit | Charters

American Music Historian Samuel Charters Dies at 85

Thursday, 19 Mar 2015 05:42 PM

TALLINN, Estonia — Samuel Charters, a vital historian of American blues, folk and jazz who helped introduce a generation of music lovers to Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell and other performers, has died. He was 85.

His widow, the author Ann Charters, said Thursday her husband died the day before in Stockholm of a bone marrow disorder after a serious illness.

Along with such musicologists as Alan Lomax and Harry Smith, Charters helped bring mainstream attention to once-obscure musicians from the South and Appalachia and make possible the blues revival of the 1960s. His first book, "The Country Blues," came out in 1959 alongside an album of recordings by Johnson, McTell, Sleepy John Estes and others that reached a small, but influential base of fans. Bob Dylan would include versions of two songs compiled by Charters, Bukka White's "Fixin' to Die Blues" and Tommy McClennan's "New Highway 51," on his debut album, and later wrote a song about McTell. By the mid-'60s, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and other rock stars were routinely performing blues songs.

"Sam Charters brought the country blues alive, and with great intelligence," said historian Saul Wilentz. "His book was a touchstone at once enlightening and mysterious; the record, along with Harry Smith's collection and a few others, was a thrilling informant."

Charters, a native of Pittsburgh, moved to the Scandinavian country in 1970 to work as a producer for the Swedish record company Sonet Records.

A dual Swedish-U.S. citizen, he was best known for his books on the history of the blues and jazz, although his subjects also extended to Swedish fiddlers and poetry.

From early on in his life, Charters became enamored of blues and jazz. In 1951, he moved to New Orleans and lived there for almost a decade.

"He felt that the black musicians of New Orleans needed more recognition," Ann Charters told The Associated Press from Stockholm. "What people often don't know is that he published many books of poetry and five novels. He thought of himself as a poet as well as a music historian."

His last book, "A Trumpet Around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz," was published six years ago. He also wrote poetry and novels, produced records, and translated, among others, poems of 2011 Nobel literature prize winner Tomas Transtromer into English.

In 1959 Charters married his second wife, Ann, a leading authority on the Beat Generation who wrote the first biography of Jack Kerouac, in 1973. Together the couple was involved with the U.S. civil rights movement and became ardent critics of the Vietnam War.

Ann Charters said they were disillusioned with the U.S. political scene and moved to Sweden, which she described as "a neutral country."

His career continued in Sweden, where he became a respected figure among blues, folk and jazz musicians. He received Swedish citizenship in 2002.

Charters' funeral is scheduled to be held next week in Sweden, Ann Charters said. He is survived by a son from an earlier marriage and two daughters.

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Samuel Charters, a vital historian of American blues, folk and jazz who helped introduce a generation of music lovers to Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell and other performers, has died. He was 85.
EU, Obit, Charters
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2015-42-19
Thursday, 19 Mar 2015 05:42 PM
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