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Barry Pearson

Barry Pearson profile photo

Professor, English
Affiliate Faculty, School of Music
Affiliate Professor, American Studies

(301) 405-3780

3115 Tawes Hall
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Research Expertise

African American/African Diaspora
American
American music
Film Studies and Cultural Studies
Musicology & Ethnomusicology
Mythology and Folklore

Dr. Barry Pearson has produced four books and over one hundred other publications, including articles, reviews, program and recording notes, and sound recordings dealing with African American traditional music. He has written on oral biography, which is the focus of Sounds So Good to Me: The Bluesman's Story; regionalism and the relationship between life story and repertoire in Virginia Piedmont Blues: The Lives and Art of Two Virginia Blues Men; blues artists as narrators in "Jook right On": Blues Stories and Storytellers; and has co-authored a historiography of blues icon Robert Johnson entitled Robert Johnson: Lost and Found. He has produced nine CDs for the Smithsonian Folkways, and in 1993 was nominated for a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album, Roots of Rhythm and Blues: A Tribute to the Robert Johnson Era.

Currently a Professor in the English Department at the University of Maryland, he works with organizations engaged in preesenting traditional American music, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, and the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the nation's olders folk arts organization for which he serves as President.

As a performing musician he has toured for the Arts America Program visiting Africa, South and Central America. In general, his work involves preaching and teaching, and presenting traditional music and musicians in a painlessly educational format.

Publications

Sounds So Good to Me: The Bluesman's Story

The roots of much American music lie in the intensely personal art form of the blues. What bluesmen from W.C. Handy to B.B. King have told us about their lives has shaped America's perception of the blues.

English

Lead: Barry Pearson
Dates:
These life stories provide central insights into blues music and stand as a fascinating form of narrative in their own right. Barry Lee Pearson has conducted dozens of field interviews and collected over a hundred published autobiographies to present this collective portrait of bluesmen's careers as they themselves tell them: their musical learning, communities, work, pleasures, travels, triumphs, and crises.

Robert Johnson: LOST AND FOUND (Music in American Life)

With just forty-one recordings to his credit, Robert Johnson (1911-38) is a giant in the history of blues music.

English

Lead: Barry Pearson
Dates:
ohnson's vast influence on twentieth-century American music, combined with his mysterious death at the age of twenty-seven, has allowed speculation and myths to obscure the facts of his life. The most famous of these legends depicts a young Johnson meeting the Devil at a dusty Mississippi crossroads at midnight and selling his soul in exchange for prodigious guitar skills.

Robert Johnson: Lost and Found (Music in American Life)

With just forty-one recordings to his credit, Robert Johnson (1911-38) is a giant in the history of blues music.

English

Lead: Barry Pearson
Dates:

With just forty-one recordings to his credit, Robert Johnson (1911-38) is a giant in the history of blues music. Johnson's vast influence on twentieth-century American music, combined with his mysterious death at the age of twenty-seven, has allowed speculation and myths to obscure the facts of his life. The most famous of these legends depicts a young Johnson meeting the Devil at a dusty Mississippi crossroads at midnight and selling his soul in exchange for prodigious guitar skills.

In this volume, Barry Lee Pearson and Bill McCulloch examine the full range of writings about Johnson and sift fact from fiction. They compare conflicting accounts of Johnson's life, weighing them against interviews with blues musicians and others who knew the man. Through their extensive research Pearson and McCulloch uncover a life every bit as compelling as the fabrications and exaggerations that have sprung up around it. In examining Johnson's life and music, and the ways in which both have been reinvented and interpreted by other artists, critics, and fans, Robert Johnson: Lost and Found charts the broader cultural forces that have mediated the expression of African American artistic traditions.

Jook Right On: Blues Stories and Blues Storytellers

Jook Right On: Blues Stories and Blues Storytellers is what author and compiler Barry Lee Pearson calls a “blues quilt.”

English

Lead: Barry Pearson
Dates:
These blues stories, collected by Pearson for thirty years, are told in the blues musicians’ own words. The author interviewed over one hundred musicians, recording and transcribing their stories. These are stories from well-known musicians such as John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and Little Milton, and from more obscure artists such as Big Luck Carter, Henry Dorsey, Joseph Savage, and J. T. Adams. Pearson provides an introduction to the world of the blues and the genre of blues stories as well as brief biographies of the musicians. Divided into five sections—Blues Talk, Living the Blues, Learning the Blues, Working the Blues, and The Last Word—the book provides an overview of the inner workings of the blues tradition from the artist’s point of view.

Jook Right On: Blues Stories and Blues Storytellers

Author and compiler Barry Lee Pearson calls this volume a "blues quilt." These stories, collected over thirty years, are told in the blues
musicians' own words.

English

Lead: Barry Pearson
Dates:

Author and compiler Barry Lee Pearson calls this volume a "blues quilt." These stories, collected over thirty years, are told in the blues musicians' own words. Pearson interviewed over one hundred musicians, recording and transcribing their stories. These are stories from well-known musicians such as John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, and Little Milton, and from more obscure artists such as Big Luck Carter, Henry Dorsey, Joseph Savage, and J.T. Adams. Pearson provides an introduction to the world of blues and the genre of blues stories as well as brief biographies of the musicians.

Sounds So Good to Me: The Bluesman's Story

The roots of much American music lie in the intensely personal art form of the blues. What bluesmen from W.C. Handy to B.B. King have told us about their lives has shaped America's perception of the blues.

English

Lead: Barry Pearson
Dates:
The roots of much American music lie in the intensely personal art form of the blues. What bluesmen from W.C. Handy to B.B. King have told us about their lives has shaped America's perception of the blues. These life stories provide central insights into blues music and stand as a fascinating form of narrative in their own right. Barry Lee Pearson has conducted dozens of field interviews and collected over a hundred published autobiographies to present this collective portrait of bluesmen's careers as they themselves tell them: their musical learning, communities, work, pleasures, travels, triumphs, and crises.

Virginia Piedmont Blues: The Lives and Art of Two Virginia Bluesmen

Documents the journey of two black American bluesmen, Archie Edwards and John Cephas, as they carry their musical heritage to the world.

English

Lead: Barry Pearson
Dates:
Documents the journey of two black American bluesmen, Archie Edwards and John Cephas, as they carry their musical heritage to the world.

Virginia Piedmont Blues: The Lives and Art of Two Virginia Bluesmen

Documents the journey of two black American bluesmen, Archie Edwards and John Cephas, as they carry their musical heritage to the world.

English

Lead: Barry Pearson
Dates:
The book follows up on Pearson's collection of biographies of blues musicians, entitled "Sounds So Good To Me."