Big Bill Broonzy Redux

As my colleague mentioned in her previous post about the wonders of the NAXOS music library, country blues legend Big Bill Broonzy (whose music can be heard in streaming form via the aforementioned resource) did indeed grace Ames with his larger-than-life presence for a time.

Broonzy was part of Studs Terkel’s “I Come For To Sing” traveling revue, which performed in the late 1940s in the Iowa State Armory. After the show, Broonzy met ISU English professors Leonard and Lillian Feinberg at a reception hosted by the couple. Shortly thereafter, Broonzy was told by his doctor that he needed to get out of the city (Chicago), or face a significantly lower life expectancy. He wrote to Professor (Leonard) Feinberg asking for work on an ISU farm. Feinberg was able to get him a job, instead, as a janitor in Friley Hall in 1950 (Jorgen Rasmussen, Ames Historical Society Newsletter, Summer, 2003). Rumor has it that ISU undergraduates taught Broonzy to read and write in exchange for some guitar tutelage. Only a year had passed, however, before Broonzy realized it would be much more lucrative to tour Europe, which he did with some frequency, and in the meantime, moved back to Chicago in 1951.*

In addition to the Broonzy material available in NAXOS, the library owns the following recordings and books of interest:

Recordings:

  • Broonzy, Big Bill. Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order (Document Records, 1991-1995). This is a 12-CD set that spans the dates November 1927 –  1947.  Each one of these discs has its own call number and they’re all sequential: The call number for disc one is DISC 001 986, and at the other end of the range, the call number for disc twelve is DISC 001 997.
  • Broonzy, Big Bill. The Bill Broonzy Story (Verve, 1960, reissued in 1999). This is a 3-CD set that includes biographical notes by Bill Randle and program notes reprinted from the original 5-LP box set liner notes. Recorded in Chicago, July 12 and 13, 1957 (DISC 001 776).
  • Broonzy, Big Bill. Trouble in Mind (Smithsonian Folkways, 2000; originally released in 1957 on the Smithsonian label as “Big” Bill Broonzy Sings Country Blues.) Recorded in 1956-1957 in Chicago and New York City. Pete Seeger plays banjo on one track! (DISC 003 053)

Additionally, Broonzy is featured on a number of compilation recordings owned by the ISU Library, such as Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? American Song During the Great Depression (DISC 004 177), and Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways (DISC 007 055).

The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy

Books:

  • Broonzy, Big Bill. Big Bill Blues: William Broonzy’s Story as Told to Yannick Bruynoghe. (The 1964 Oak Press edition is available in the Parks Library General Collection at the call number ML420 B78 A3 1964, and the 1992 Da Capo edition is held in the Parks Library Special Collections Department at the call number ML420 B78 A3 1992. Note that items held by Special Collections can only be viewed in the Special Collections area (403 Parks Library) during their open hours, Monday – Friday, 9am – 4pm.)
  • Riesman, Bob. I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy. (U of Chicago Press, 2011.) Call number: ML420 B78 R54 2011. This is a very recent acquisition, and includes an “appreciation” written by Pete Townshend.
  • House, Roger. Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy. (Louisiana State UP, 2010.) Coming soon.

Please check out some of the above materials (pun intended) if you like what you hear on NAXOS, or just want to learn more about a national treasure with an almost-forgotten Iowa State University connection.

*Thanks to the staff of the Iowa State University Library Archives for their help in procuring some of the information included in this post.

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