Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Arthur Knight


This dissertation examines the development of blues criticism in its myriad forms from the 1920s to 1990s, its role in the emergence of a blues discourse and history, and the codification of a blues canon. I analyze blues discourse principally as the creation of critics, historians, and musicologists, but also as the result of series of complex, imbricated relationships among writers, musicians, fans, record collectors, and independent entrepreneurs.;Beginning in the 1920s, I outline a pre-history of blues discourse by examining the metamorphosis of the blues as a cultural text shaped by the folklore scholarship, criticism and reportage in the popular press, and the commercial ascendancy of the blues on record. of special interest is the blues writing in the African American press and how these writers debated the cultural politics of music and interpretations of racial uplift ideology.;In the post-World War II era, I focus on the works of Samuel Charters and Paul Oliver, specifically the former's The Country Blues and the latter's Blues Fell This Morning. I examine how their writing influenced the blues revivalists of the 1960s, and the impact of their work on later blues scholars, journalists, and record collectors. It is the last group, record collectors, that I examine in detail and their work as the musical archaeologists, culture brokers, and keepers (and creators) of multiple blues canons. Lastly, I analyze the work of women blues writers, their rhetorical approach to the genre, and the impact they have had on decentering the male-authored blues canon and recreating contemporary blues discourse.



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