Save 40% on UNC Press books during our American History SALE! See details.

Save 40% on UNC Press books during our American History SALE! See details.

Whose Blues?

Facing Up to Race and the Future of the Music

By Adam Gussow

332 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 30 halftones, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6036-3
    Published: October 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6035-6
    Published: October 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6037-0
    Published: September 2020

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

Mamie Smith’s pathbreaking 1920 recording of "Crazy Blues" set the pop music world on fire, inaugurating a new African American market for "race records." Not long after, such records also brought black blues performance to an expanding international audience. A century later, the mainstream blues world has transformed into a multicultural and transnational melting pot, taking the music far beyond the black southern world of its origins. But not everybody is happy about that. If there's "No black. No white. Just the blues," as one familiar meme suggests, why do some blues people hear such pronouncements as an aggressive attempt at cultural appropriation and an erasure of traumatic histories that lie deep in the heart of the music? Then again, if "blues is black music," as some performers and critics insist, what should we make of the vibrant global blues scene, with its all-comers mix of nationalities and ethnicities?

In Whose Blues?, award-winning blues scholar and performer Adam Gussow confronts these challenging questions head-on. Using blues literature and history as a cultural anchor, Gussow defines, interprets, and makes sense of the blues for the new millennium. Drawing on the blues tradition’s major writers including W. C. Handy, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Amiri Baraka, and grounded in his first-person knowledge of the blues performance scene, Gussow’s thought-provoking book kickstarts a long overdue conversation.

About the Author

Adam Gussow is professor of English and southern studies at the University of Mississippi and author of four previous books on the blues, including Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition. He is currently appearing on Netflix in Satan & Adam, an award-winning documentary about his thirty-five-year partnership with Mississippi-born bluesman Sterling "Mr. Satan" Magee.
For more information about Adam Gussow, visit the Author Page.


"An insightful work that connects contemporary culture to an old-school genre."--Kirkus Reviews

"Ably details the African American core of the blues and the shifting racial dynamics that have made the music so compelling to white Americans and blues fans in other cultures. Blues scholars will find the book illuminating."--Library Journal

“Well-researched. . . . Another recommended book.”--Steve Ramm, The Antique Phonograph

“As a Black musician, I have often reflected on the dichotomy between Black bluesism and blues universalism.  Whose music is it? Who profits from it? How is the next generation of blues artists being mentored? In a book that is as timely as it is illuminating, Adam Gussow has given us an excellent framework for considering these questions, and along the way he offers a rich, informative, and often myth-busting history of the complex story of blues and race.”--Gene Dobbs Bradford, president and CEO, Jazz St. Louis

"In Whose Blues?, Adam Gussow tackles the provocative reality of the blues. He ties the music’s tortured history to the current racial climate and adds chapters on blues’ place in African American literature and the Black Arts Movement. This is essential reading to better understand the power of the blues."--Art Tipaldi, editor, Blues Music Magazine

"In an act of fidelity to the blues itself, Adam Gussow returns us to a fundamental question that sadly is often unspoken and repressed in today’s everyday blues consciousness. Gussow, a blues performer and a man of deep reflection, busts open the silence but also cautions against unnecessary fights as he supports and intensifies struggles for equality in the blues."--"Sugar Brown" Ken Kawashima, University of Toronto